1650s, from hand in cap, a game whereby two bettors would engage a neutral umpire to determine the odds in an unequal contest. The bettors would put their hands holding forfeit money into a hat or cap. The umpire would announce the odds and the bettors would withdraw their hands — hands full meaning that they accepted the odds and the bet was on, hands empty meaning they did not accept the bet and were willing to forfeit the money. If one forfeited, then the money went to the other. If both agreed either on forfeiting or going ahead with the wager, then the umpire kept the money as payment. The custom, though not the name, is attested from 14c. ("Piers Plowman").
Reference to horse racing is 1754 (Handy-Cap Match), where the umpire decrees the superior horse should carry extra weight as a "handicap;" this led to sense of "encumbrance, disability" first recorded 1890. The main modern sense, "a mental or physical disability," is the last to develop, early 20c.
c. 1300, relēsen, "to withdraw, revoke (a decree, etc.), cancel, lift; remit," from Old French relaissier, relesser "to relinquish, quit, let go, leave behind, abandon, acquit," variant of relacher "release, relax," from Latin relaxare "loosen, stretch out" (from re- "back" (see re-) + laxare "loosen," from PIE root *sleg- "be slack, be languid"). Latin relaxare is the source also of Spanish relajar, Italian relassare, and English relax, and the uncle of relish.
Meaning "alleviate, ease" is mid-14c., as is sense of "set free from (duty, etc.); exonerate." From late 14c. as "grant remission, forgive; set free from imprisonment, military service, etc." Also "give up, relinquish, surrender." In law, c. 1400, "to grant a release of property." Of press reports, attested from 1904; of motion pictures from 1912; of music recordings from 1962. As a euphemism for "to dismiss, fire from a job" it is attested in American English since 1904. Related: Released; releasing.
mid-13c., departen, "part from each other, part company;" late 13c., "separate into parts," original senses now archaic or obsolete, from Old French departir (10c.) "to divide, distribute; separate (oneself), depart; die," from Late Latin departire "to divide" (transitive), from de- "from" (see de-) + partire "to part, divide," from pars (genitive partis) "a part, piece, a share, a division" (from PIE root *pere- (2) "to grant, allot").
From c. 1300 as "go or move away, withdraw;" late 14c. as "leave, quit." As a euphemism for "to die" (depart this life "leave the world;" compare Old French departir de cest siecle) it is attested from c. 1500, as is the departed for "the dead," singly or collectively. The original transitive lingered in some modern English usages; until 1662 the wedding service was till death us depart. Related: Departed; departing.
Old English stelan "to commit a theft, to take and carry off clandestinely and without right or leave" (class IV strong verb; past tense stæl, past participle stolen), from Proto-Germanic *stelanan (source also of Old Saxon stelan, Old Norse, Old Frisian stela "to steal, to rob one of," Dutch stelen, Old High German stelan, German stehlen, Gothic stilan "to steal"), from PIE *stel-, possibly a variant of *ster- (3) "to rob, steal."
"The notion of secrecy ... seems to be part of the original meaning of the vb." [OED]. Intransitive meaning "to depart or withdraw stealthily and secretly" is from late Old English. Most IE words for steal have roots in notions of "hide," "carry off," or "collect, heap up." Attested as a verb of stealthy motion from c. 1300 (as in to steal away, late 14c.); of kisses from late 14c.; of glances, sighs, etc., from 1580s. The various sports senses begin 1836. To steal (someone) blind first recorded 1974.
early 15c., "the dodging movements of a hunted animal" (a sense now obsolete); 1620s as "a trick, a stratagem, an artifice," from Old French ruse, reuse "diversion, switch in flight; trick, jest" (14c.), a noun from reuser "to dodge, repel, retreat; deceive, cheat," which is from Latin recusare "make an objection against; decline, refuse, reject; be reluctant to" (see recuse; also compare rush (v.)).
It also has been proposed that the French word may be from Latin rursus "backwards," or a Vulgar Latin form of refusare. Johnson calls it, "A French word neither elegant nor necessary."
The verb ruse was in Middle English (rusen), mid-14c. as "drive (someone) back in battle," also "retreat, give ground, withdraw;" late 14c., of game animals "travel so as to elude pursuit." The noun also was used in Middle English in the sense of "roundabout course taken by a hunter in pursuit of prey."
c. 1400, scracchen, transitive, "mark or wound slightly on the surface by a scraping or tearing action with something rough, sharp, or pointed," probably a fusion of Middle English scratten and crachen, both meaning "to scratch," both of uncertain origin. Also compare scr-. Related: Scratched; scratching.
The meaning "relieve skin irritation by a scraping motion with the nails or claws or a scratcher" is by 1520s. The billiards sense of "hit the cue ball into a pocket" is recorded by 1909 (also, originally, itch), though earlier it meant "a lucky shot" (1850). The meaning "to withdraw (a horse) from a race" is 1865, from notion of scratching its name off a list of competitors; the phrase was used in a non-sporting sense of "cancel a plan, etc." by 1680s.
To scratch the surface "make only slight progress in penetrating or understanding" is from 1882. To scratch (one's) head as a gesture of perplexity is recorded from 1712. The plastering scratch-coat, roughened by scratching before it sets, is by 1891.