mid-14c., "fluid or juice of an animal or plant," from Old North French humour "liquid, dampness; (medical) humor" (Old French humor, umor; Modern French humeur), from Latin umor "body fluid" (also humor, by false association with humus "earth"); related to umere "be wet, moist," and to uvescere "become wet" (see humid).
In old medicine, "any of the four body fluids" (blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black bile).
The human body had four humors—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile—which, in turn, were associated with particular organs. Blood came from the heart, phlegm from the brain, yellow bile from the liver, and black bile from the spleen. Galen and Avicenna attributed certain elemental qualities to each humor. Blood was hot and moist, like air; phlegm was cold and moist, like water; yellow bile was hot and dry, like fire; and black bile was cold and dry, like earth. In effect, the human body was a microcosm of the larger world. [Robert S. Gottfried, "The Black Death," 1983]
Their relative proportions were thought to determine physical condition and state of mind. This gave humor an extended sense of "mood, temporary state of mind" (recorded from 1520s); the sense of "amusing quality, funniness, jocular turn of mind" is first recorded 1680s, probably via sense of "whim, caprice" as determined by state of mind (1560s), which also produced the verb sense of "indulge (someone's) fancy or disposition." Modern French has them as doublets: humeur "disposition, mood, whim;" humour "humor." "The pronunciation of the initial h is only of recent date, and is sometimes omitted ..." [OED].
For aid in distinguishing the various devices that tend to be grouped under "humor," this guide, from Henry W. Fowler ["Modern English Usage," 1926] may be of use:
HUMOR: motive/aim: discovery; province: human nature; method/means: observation; audience: the sympathetic
WIT: motive/aim: throwing light; province: words & ideas; method/means: surprise; audience: the intelligent
SATIRE: motive/aim: amendment; province: morals & manners; method/means: accentuation; audience: the self-satisfied
SARCASM: motive/aim: inflicting pain; province: faults & foibles; method/means: inversion; audience: victim & bystander
INVECTIVE: motive/aim: discredit; province: misconduct; method/means: direct statement; audience: the public
IRONY: motive/aim: exclusiveness; province: statement of facts; method/means: mystification; audience: an inner circle
CYNICISM: motive/aim: self-justification; province: morals; method/means: exposure of nakedness; audience: the respectable
SARDONIC: motive/aim: self-relief; province: adversity; method/means: pessimism; audience: the self
Middle English sheten "hasten from place to place; move swiftly; thrust forward; discharge a missile, send an arrow from a bow," from Old English sceotan (class II strong verb; past tense sceat, past participle scoten), "dart forth, go swiftly and suddenly," also "discharge (a missile or weapon);" also, of a person, "go suddenly from place to place;" also transitive "send out or forth with sudden or violent motion; put forth or extend in any direction; strike with anything shot."
This is from Proto-Germanic *skeutanan (source also of Old Saxon skiotan, Old Norse skjota "to shoot with (a weapon); shoot, launch, push, shove quickly," Old Frisian skiata, Middle Dutch skieten, Dutch schieten, Old High German skiozan, German schießen), often said to be from PIE root *skeud- "to shoot, chase, throw," but Boutkan gives it no IE etymology.
The sense of "dart along" (as pain through the nerves or a meteor in the sky) is by late 13c.; that of "come forth" (as a plant) is by late 15c. As "increase rapidly, grow quickly" by 1530s (often with up (adv.)). By 1690s as "be emitted in rays or flashes" (as light is); by 1530s in weaving, "variegate by interspersing colors."
The general sports sense of "kick, hit, throw etc. toward the goal" is by 1874. In reference to pool playing, by 1926. The meaning "strive (for)" is by 1967, American English. The sense of "descend (a river) quickly" is from 1610s. The slang meaning "to inject by means of a hypodermic needle" is attested by 1914 among addicts. The meaning "to photograph" (especially a movie) is from 1890.
As an interjection, an arbitrary euphemistic alteration of shit, it is recorded by 1934.
Shoot the breeze "chat" is attested by 1938 (as shooting the breeze), perhaps originally U.S. military slang. Shoot to kill is attested from 1867. Slang shoot the cat "vomit" is from 1785.
To shoot the moon formerly meant "depart by night with ones goods to escape back rent" (c. 1823).
O, 'tis cash makes such crowds to the gin shops roam,
And 'tis cash often causes a rumpus at home ;
'Tis when short of cash people oft shoot the moon ;
And 'tis cash always keeps our pipes in tune.
Cash! cash! &c.
["The Melodist and Mirthful Olio, An Elegant Collection of the Most Popular Songs," vol. IV, London, 1829]
Shoot against the moon was used by Massinger (1634) as a figure of an impossible attempt.
English coin, Middle English peni, from Old English pening, penig, Northumbrian penning "penny," from Proto-Germanic *panninga- (source also of Old Norse penningr, Swedish pänning, Danish penge, Old Frisian panning, Old Saxon pending, Middle Dutch pennic, Dutch penning, Old High German pfenning, German Pfennig, not recorded in Gothic where skatts is used instead), a word of unknown origin.
Offa's reformed coinage on light, broad flans is likely to have begun c.760-5 in London, with an awareness of developments in Francia and East Anglia. ... The broad flan penny established by Offa remained the principal denomination, with only minor changes, until the fourteenth century. [Anna Gannon, "The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage," Oxford, 2003]
The English coin was originally set at one-twelfth of a shilling (or 240 to a Tower pound) and was of silver, later copper, then bronze. There are two plural forms: pennies of individual coins, pence collectively. In Middle English, any coin could be called a penny, and in translations it rendered various foreign coins of small denomination, especially Latin denarius, whence comes its abbreviation d.
As an American English colloquial for cent, it is recorded by 1889. In reference to nails, "a pound," denoting that 1,000 nails will weigh so much, OED says it probably is based originally on the price per 100 and persisted as prices fell.
Penny-a-liner "writer for a journal or newspaper" is attested by 1830, from their supposed rate of pay. Penny dreadful in reference to "cheap and gory fiction" dates from 1870. Phrase penny-wise and pound-foolish is recorded from c. 1600.
Penny-pincher "miserly person" is recorded from 1906 (Middle English had pinchpenny (n.) in that sense; as an adjective penny-pinching is recorded from 1858, American English). Penny loafers attested from 1960, perhaps from the fashion of slipping a penny into the slits of the bands across the facing.
"A regular penny-a-liner is a person who supplies the newspapers of the city with short articles of news, ingenious remarks upon the current topics of the day, reports of meetings, or of cases in the police offices, accidents, &c. &c., but who, observe, has no express engagement from, or any direct connexion with, any newspaper whatever. His success is wholly precarious—always uncertain. If the contributions which those persons forward for publication, in this way, are published, they are certain of payment for them at the rate of one penny, three half-pence, and in rare cases, two pence a-line, according to the importance of the subject matter supplied. ["The London Penny-a-Line System," Irish Monthly Magazine, January 1833]
Old English ald (Anglian), eald (West Saxon, Kentish) "antique, of ancient origin, belonging to antiquity, primeval; long in existence or use; near the end of the normal span of life; elder, mature, experienced," from Proto-Germanic *althaz "grown up, adult" (source also of Old Frisian ald, Gothic alþeis, Dutch oud, German alt), originally a past-participle stem of a verb meaning "grow, nourish" (compare Gothic alan "to grow up," Old Norse ala "to nourish"), from PIE root *al- (2) "to grow, nourish." The original Old English vowel is preserved in Scots auld, also in alderman. The original comparative and superlative (elder, eldest) are retained in particular uses.
The usual PIE root is *sen- (see senior (adj.)). A few Indo-European languages distinguish words for "old" (vs. young) from words for "old" (vs. new), and some have separate words for aged persons as opposed to old things. Latin senex was used of aged living things, mostly persons, while vetus (literally "having many years") was used of inanimate things. Greek geraios was used mostly of humans; palaios was used mostly of things, of persons only in a derogatory sense. Greek also had arkhaios, literally "belonging to the beginning," which parallels French ancien, used mostly with reference to things "of former times."
Old English also had fyrn "ancient," which is related to Old English feor "far, distant" (see far, and compare Gothic fairneis, Old Norse forn "old, of old, of former times," Old High German firni "old, experienced").
Meaning "of a specified age" (three days old) is from late Old English. Sense of "pertaining to or characteristic of the earlier or earliest of two or more stages of development or periods of time" is from late Old English. As an intensive, "great, high," mid-15c., now only following another adjective (gay old time, good old Charlie Brown). As a noun, "those who are old," 12c. Of old "of old times" is from late 14c.
Old age "period of life of advanced years" is from early 14c. Old Testament is attested from mid-14c. (in late Old English it was old law). Old lady "wife, mother" is attested from c. 1775 (but compare Old English seo ealde hlæfdige "the queen dowager"). Old man "man who has lived long" is from late Old English; the sense of "husband, father, boss" is from 1854, earlier (1830) it was military slang for "commanding officer;" old boy as a familiar form of address is by c. 1600. Old days "former times" is from late Old English; good old days, "former times conceived as better than the present," sometimes ironic, is by 1670s. Old Light (adj.), in religion, "favoring the old faith or principles," is by 1819.
1726, "morbid longing to return to one's home or native country, severe homesickness considered as a disease," Modern Latin, coined 1688 in a dissertation on the topic at the University of Basel by scholar Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) as a rendering of German heimweh "homesickness" (for which see home + woe).
From Greek algos "pain, grief, distress" (see -algia) + nostos "homecoming," from neomai "to reach some place, escape, return, get home," from PIE *nes- "to return safely home" (cognate with Old Norse nest "food for a journey," Sanskrit nasate "approaches, joins," German genesen "to recover," Gothic ganisan "to heal," Old English genesen "to recover"). French nostalgie is in French army medical manuals by 1754.
Originally in reference to the Swiss and said to be peculiar to them and often fatal, whether by its own action or in combination with wounds or disease.
[Dr. Scheuzer] had said that the air enclosed in the bodies of his countrymen, being in Æquilibrium with a rare and light air that surrounds them, was overloaded in lower countries with an air more dense and heavier, which compressing and obstructing the capillary vessels, makes the circulation slow and difficult, and occasions many sad symptoms. [Account of the publication of "Areographia Helvetiæ" in New Memoirs of Literature, London, March 1726]
By 1830s the word was used of any intense homesickness: that of sailors, convicts, African slaves. "The bagpipes produced the same effects sometimes in the Scotch regiments while serving abroad" [Penny Magazine," Nov. 14, 1840]. It is listed among the "endemic diseases" in the "Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine" [London, 1833, edited by three M.D.s], which defines it as "The concourse of depressing symptoms which sometimes arise in persons who are absent from their native country, when they are seized with a longing desire of returning to their home and friends and the scenes their youth ...."
It was a military medical diagnosis principally, and was considered a serious medical problem by the North in the American Civil War:
In the first two years of the war, there were reported 2588 cases of nostalgia, and 13 deaths from this cause. These numbers scarcely express the real extent to which nostalgia influenced the sickness and mortality of the army. To the depressing influence of home-sickness must be attributed the fatal result in many cases which might otherwise have terminated favorably. ["Sanitary Memoirs of the War," U.S. Sanitary Commission, N.Y.: 1867]
Transferred sense (the main modern one) of "wistful yearning for the past" is recorded by 1920, perhaps from such use of nostalgie in French literature. The longing for a distant place also necessarily involves a separation in time.