"a conceited, narrow-minded pragmatical person; a dull, precise person; one who cultivates or affects propriety and offends or bores others," 1753, originally in reference to theological scruples (1704), a word of unknown origin.
It could be related to earlier appearances of the same word meaning "a dandy, coxcomb, fop" (1670s), "thief" (c. 1600; in forms prigger, prigman recorded from 1560s). Century Dictionary speculates the modern word is "perhaps a later application (of the "thief" sense) in the general sense, among "the profession," of 'a smart fellow.' " Also compare thieves' cant prig "a tinker" (1560s). In Middle English a prig was a kind of small nail used in roofing or tiling (14c.), perhaps from prick.
A p[rig] is wise beyond his years in all the things that do not matter. A p. cracks nuts with a steam hammer: that is, calls in the first principles of morality to decide whether he may, or must, do something of as little importance as drinking a glass of beer. On the whole, one may, perhaps, say that all his different characteristics come from the combination, in varying proportions, of three things—the desire to do his duty, the belief that he knows better than other people, & blindness to the difference in value between different things. [quoted in Fowler, 1926, who writes that it can be found in "an anonymous volume of essays"]
1630s, atmosphaera (modern form from 1670s), "gaseous envelop surrounding the earth," from Modern Latin atmosphaera, from Greek atmos "vapor, steam" (see atmo-) + sphaira "sphere" (see sphere). In old science, "vaporous air," which was considered a part of the earth and a contamination of the lower part of the air (n.1).
Þe ouer partye of þe eyr is pure and clene, clere, esy & softe, ffor mevynge of stormys, of wynde and of wedir may nat reche þerto; and so it perteyneþ to heuenlych kynde. And þe neþir partye is nyʒe to þe spere of watir and of erþe, and is troubly, greet and þicke, corpulent and ful of moyst erþy vapoures, as longiþ to erþy partyes. Þe eyr strecchiþ hym kyndely al aboute fro þe ouer partye of þe erþe and of watir anon to þe spere of fire. [Bartholomew Glanville, "De proprietatibus rerum," c. 1240, translated by John of Trevisa c. 1398 ]
First used in English in connection with the Moon, which, as it turns out, practically has none.
'Tis Observed, in the Solary Eclipses, that there is some times a great Trepidation about the Body of the Moon, from which we may likewise argue an Atmo-sphaera, since we cannot well conceive what so probable a cause there should be of such an appearance as this, Quod radii Solares a vaporibus Lunam ambientibus fuerint intercisi, that the Sun-beams were broken and refracted by the Vapours that encompassed the Moon. [Rev. John Wilkins, "Discovery of New World or Discourse tending to prove that it probable there may be another World in the Moon," 1638]
Figurative sense of "surrounding influence, mental or moral environment" is c. 1800.
1831, "iron rolled in large, flat plates for use in making steam boilers," from boiler + plate (n.). In newspaper (and now information technology) slang, the sense of "unit of writing that can be used over and over without change" is attested by 1887. The connecting notion probably is the permanence of the prepared plate compared to set type: From the 1870s to the 1950s, publicity items were cast or stamped in metal ready for the printing press and distributed to country newspapers as filler. An early provider was the American Press Association (1882). The largest supplier later was Western Newspaper Union.
An older name for it was plate-matter "type cast in a number of stereotype plates for insertion in different newspapers" (1878). Plate (n.) is attested by 1824 in printing as "a cast of a page of composed movable types."
WITHIN the past ten years, "plate matter" has become more and more popular among out-of-town papers, and the more enterprising are discarding the ready prints and are using plate matter instead. For a long time there was a prejudice against "Boiler Plates," but editors of small, and even of prosperous papers, began to discover that better matter was going out in the plates than they could afford, individually, to pay for. It was found that the reading public did not care, so long as the reading columns were bright and newsy, whether they were set up in the local office or in New York. ["The Journalist Souvenir," 1887]
"the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments," early 14c., from Anglo-Latin biblia, Old French bible (13c.) "the Bible," also any large book generally, from Medieval and Late Latin biblia "the Bible" (neuter plural interpreted as feminine singular), from phrase biblia sacra "holy books," a translation of Greek ta biblia to hagia "the holy books." The Latin word is from the Greek one, biblion "paper, scroll," also the ordinary word for "a book as a division of a larger work;" see biblio-.
The Christian scripture was referred to in Greek as Ta Biblia as early as c. 223. Bible replaced Old English biblioðece (see bibliothec) as the ordinary word for "the Scriptures." Figurative sense of "any authoritative book" is from 1804. Bible-thumper "strict Christian" is from 1870. Bible belt in reference to the swath of the U.S. South then dominated by fundamentalist Christians is from 1926; likely coined by H.L. Mencken.
Her first husband was a missionary to China, and died miserably out there, leaving her with a small baby and no funds. Her second seems to have left her nearly as quickly, though under his own steam: her souvenir was another infant. For years she toured the Bible Belt in a Ford, haranguing the morons nightly under canvas. [H.L. Mencken, review of Aimee Semple McPherson's "In the Service of the King: The Story of My Life," The American Mercury, April 1928]
Walter Scott and Pope's Homer were reading of my own election, but my mother forced me, by steady daily toil, to learn long chapters of the Bible by heart; as well as to read it every syllable through, aloud, hard names and all, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, about once a year; and to that discipline — patient, accurate, and resolute — I owe, not only a knowledge of the book, which I find occasionally serviceable, but much of my general power of taking pains, and the best part of my taste in literature. ... [O]nce knowing the 32nd of Deuteronomy, the 119th Psalm, the 15th of 1st Corinthians, the Sermon on the Mount, and most of the Apocalypse, every syllable by heart, and having always a way of thinking with myself what words meant, it was not possible for me, even in the foolishest times of youth, to write entirely superficial or formal English .... [John Ruskin, "Fors Clavigera," 1871]