Old English meaning "ligaments, tendons" is preserved in hamstring (n.), heart-strings. Meaning "limitations, stipulations" (1888) is American English, probably from the common April Fool's joke of leaving a purse that appears to be full of money on the sidewalk, then tugging it away with an attached string when someone stoops to pick it up.
To pull strings "control the course of affairs" (1860) is from the notion of puppet theater. First string, second string, etc. in athletics (1863) is from archers' custom of carrying spare bowstrings in the event that one breaks. Strings "stringed instruments" is attested from mid-14c. String bean is from 1759; string bikini is from 1974.
I would hate to see some old railroad man come here and take my job, and then, I don't think it is right to hire some Hill Billy and give him the same right as I just because he was hired the same time I was. [The Railroad Trainmen's Journal, vol. ix, July 1892]
In short, a Hill-Billie is a free and untrammelled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires of his revolver as the fancy takes him. [New York Journal, April 23, 1900]
In Scott's collection of Border ballads, billie is a frequent term of address or intimacy, "comrade, companion, a brother in arms," "a term expressive of affection and familiarity" also "a brother; a wooer of a woman," and generally "a young man" [Jamieson, 2nd edition]. It is said to be a variant of bully (n.) in its old sense of "sweetheart," also "fine fellow."
also colour-blindness, "incapacity for perceiving certain colors due to an absence or weakness of the sensation upon which the power of distinguishing them depends," 1844, the native word, used in England instead of French daltonisme (by 1828), after English chemist John Dalton (1766-1844), who published a description of it in 1794. From color (n.) + blindness.
The continental philosophers have named it Daltonism, a name which has been strongly objected to by almost every English writer who has discussed the subject, on the ground of the inexpediency and undesirableness of immortalizing the imperfections or personal peculiarities of celebrated men by title of this kind. ... The name "Color-Blindness," proposed by Sir D. Brewster, seems in every respect unexceptionable. [Littell's Living Age, vol. v, April 1845]
Noted as inexact (very few people who can see are blind to all color), "the term is applied with much laxity to any constitutional inability to discriminate between colours" [OED]. In figurative use, with reference to race or ethnicity, it is attested from 1866, American English. Related: color-blind (adj.), which is attested from 1854.
Old English bolla "bowl, cup, pot, round vessel for containing liquids," merged with Middle Dutch bolle "round object," borrowed 13c., both from Proto-Germanic *bul-, from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell." Influenced in meaning by Latin bulla "bubble, ball." Extended c. 1500 to "round seed pod of flax or cotton." Boll weevil, which damages cotton bolls, is so called from 1895, American English.
In south Texas, among Spanish-speaking people, the insect is generally known as the 'picudo,' a descriptive name which refers to the snout or beak of the insect. English-speaking planters generally referred to the insect at first as 'the sharpshooter,' a term which for many years has been applied to any insect which causes through its punctures the shedding of the squares or the rotting of the bolls. As there are several native insects that are commonly called sharpshooters and which, though injurious, are by no means to be compared with this insect, it becomes necessary to discourage in every way the use of the word sharpshooter as applied to this weevil. The adoption of the term 'Mexican cotton-boll weevil' for the new pest is recommended. [New Mexico College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin No. 19, April 1896]
A case of entomology meddling in etymology.
also rag-time, "syncopated, jazzy piano music," 1896, perhaps from rag "dance ball" (1895, American English dialect), or a shortening of ragged, in reference to the syncopated melody. Rag (n.) "ragtime dance tune" is from 1897.
If rag-time was called tempo di raga or rague-temps it might win honor more speedily. ... What the derivation of the word is[,] I have not the faintest idea. The negroes call their clog-dancing "ragging" and the dance a "rag." [Rupert Hughes, Boston Musical Record, April 1900]
Conceive the futility of trying to reduce the intangible ragness to a strict system of misbegotten grace notes and untimely rests! In attempting to perfect, and simplify, art is destroying the unhampered spirit in which consists the whole beauty of rag-time music. The very essence of rag-time is that it shall lack all art, depending for the spirit to be infused more upon the performer than upon the composer himself. [Yale Literary Magazine, June 1899]
Her first "rag-time" was "The Bully," in which she made great sport by bringing a little coloured boy on the stage with her. Miss [May] Irwin says the way to learn to sing "rag-time" is to catch a negro and study him. [Lewis C. Strang, "Famous Actresses of the Day in America," Boston, 1899]
c. 1400, "unlucky, inauspicious," in dismal day, earlier as a noun, in the dismal (c. 1300) "in days of misfortune or disaster, under inauspicious circumstances, at an unlucky time," from Anglo-French dismal (mid-13c.), apparently from Old French (li) dis mals "(the) bad days," from Medieval Latin dies mali "evil or unlucky days" (also called dies Ægyptiaci), from Latin dies "days" (from PIE root *dyeu- "to shine") + mali, plural of malus "bad" (from PIE root *mel- (3) "false, bad, wrong").
Through the Middle Ages, calendars marked as unlucky two days of each month (Jan. 1, 25; Feb. 4, 26; March 1, 28; April 10, 20; May 3, 25; June 10, 16; July 13, 22; Aug. 1, 30; Sept. 3, 21; Oct. 3, 22; Nov. 5, 28; Dec. 7, 22), supposedly based on the ancient calculations of Egyptian astrologers.
By 1580s the English word had been extended to "gloomy, dreary, cheerless," and was used to describe physical surroundings, sounds, or anything else felt as tending to depress the spirits. In North America, it was the name given along the seacoast and sounds around North Carolina to tracts of swampy land and dead trees (1763). The dismal science (1849) was Carlyle's name for "political economics." Related: Dismally.
"very large, unusually large for its type," 1882, a reference to Jumbo, name of the London Zoo's huge elephant (acquired from France, said to have been captured as a baby in Abyssinia in 1861), sold February 1882 to U.S. circus showman P.T. Barnum amid great excitement in America and great outcry in England, both fanned by Barnum.
"I tell you conscientiously that no idea of the immensity of the animal can be formed. It is a fact that he is simply beyond comparison. The largest elephants I ever saw are mere dwarfs by the side of Jumbo." [P.T. Barnum, interview, "Philadelphia Press," April 22, 1882]
The name is perhaps from slang jumbo "clumsy, unwieldy fellow" (1823), which itself is possibly from a word for "elephant" in a West African language (compare Kongo nzamba). OED suggests it is possibly the second element in Mumbo Jumbo. Century Dictionary says "The name was given as having an African semblance." As a product size, by 1886 (cigars). Jumbo jet attested by 1964. Jumbo was accidentally killed near St. Thomas, Ontario, Sept. 15, 1885, struck by a freight train while the circus was loading up to travel.
1839, a trade name for a type of woolen fabric:
MICHAEL NOWAK, alias John Mazurkiewiez, was indicted for stealing on the 15th of April 2 ¼ yards of woollen cloth, called tweed, value 12s., and 2 ¼ yards of woollen cloth, called doe skin, value 17s., the goods of George Priestley Heap. [London Central Criminal Court minutes of evidence from 1839]
This apparently developed from the "Tweed Fishing or Travelling Trousers" advertised in numerous publications from 1834-1838 by the clothing house of Doudney & Son, 49 Lombard Street.
So celebrated has amateur rod-fishing in the Tweed become, that the proper costume of the sportsman has now become an object of speculation among the London tailors, one of whom advertises among other articles of dress "Tweed Fishing Trousers." The anglers who have so long established their head-quarters at Kelso, for the purpose of enjoying the amusement of salmon fishing in the Tweed, have had excellent sport lately : some of the most skilful having caught five or six salmon a day, weighing from six to fourteen pounds each. [New Sporting Magazine, June 1837]
Thus ultimately named for the River Tweed in Scotland. The place name has not been explained, and it is perhaps pre-Celtic and non-Indo-European.
early 15c., primarie, "earliest, most basic, first in time or sequence;" 1560s, "first or highest in rank or importance," from Latin primarius "of the first rank, chief, principal, excellent," from primus "first" (see prime (adj.)).
The meaning "first or lowest in order of growth or development; elementary, preparatory" is from c. 1800, first in education; primary school is attested by 1793 in translations from French, from école primaire.
The Paris journals ... are full of a plan, brought forward by Fourcroy, for the establishment of primary schools, which is not interesting to an English reader. [London Times, April 27, 1802]
Primary color is attested from 1610s (at first the seven of the spectrum, later the three pigments from which the others can be made). Related: Primarily.
Primary and prime mean first in time, and now especially first in order of importance: as, a primary class, definition, consideration, planet; prime mover, importance, idea .... Primitive means belonging to the beginning or origin, original, hence old-fashioned, having an old-fashioned simplicity: as, a primitive word, the primitive church, primitive purity, manners, unconventionality, dress. ... Primeval means of the flrst or earliest ages, and nothing else. [Century Dictionary]
Old English streaw (rare) "stems or stalks of certain species of grains," apparently literally "that which is scattered or strewn," related to streowian (see strew), from Proto-Germanic *straw- "that which is scattered" (source also of Old Norse stra, Danish straa, Swedish strå, Old Saxon stro, Old Frisian stre, Old Dutch, Old High German stro, Dutch stroo, German Stroh "straw"), from PIE root *stere- "to spread." The notion perhaps is of dried grain stalks strewn on a floor as carpeting or bedding.
As a type of what is trifling or unimportant, attested from late 13c. Meaning "hollow tube through which a drink is sucked" is recorded from 1851. To draw straws as a means of deciding something is recorded from 1779 (the custom probably is older). As an adjective, "made of straw," mid-15c.; hence "false, sham." Straw poll is from 1932; earlier straw vote (1866). Straw hat first attested mid-15c. To clutch (or grasp or catch) at straws (1748) is what a drowning man proverbially would do. The last straw (1836 apart from the full phrase) is from the proverbial image: "it is the last straw that breaks the camel's back" (or, less often, the mare's, the horse's, or the elephant's), an image in use in English by 1755.
Let it not, however, be inferred that taxation cannot be pushed too far : it is, as the Oriental proverb says, the last straw that overloads the camel ; a small addition, if ill-timed, may overturn the whole. [The Scots Magazine, April 1799]