1596, in reference to the famous London prison, on the site of one of the seven gates in the old London wall (the main gate to the west); this one having been used as a lock-up since the 1100s. So called because it was thought to be more recent than the others (but it apparently dated to Roman times) or because it had been rebuilt at some point. The gate was demolished in the 18c.; the last prison of that name was torn down 1902-3.
Newgate frill, "a beard shaved so as to grow only under the chin and jaw," so called in allusion to the position of the hangman's noose, is by 1851. The author of "The Habits of Good Society" (1859) calls it "a kind of compromise between the beard and the razor."
Both Coleridge and Ruskin praised Thomas Hood's Newgatory.
Hood was addressing the admirable Mrs. Fry, who, as every one knows, set up a school in Newgate to teach the poor neglected outcasts what they had never heard from Christian lips before. One of the chief points made by Hood is this,—how much better, kinder, wiser, more politic even, it would be to multiply these schools outside, not inside the Prison walls, so that prevention might take the place of cure. [Alfred Ainger, preface to "Humorous Poems by Thomas Hood"]
As a literary study, this exquisite pun of Hood's ... deserves the most careful memory, as showing what a noble and instructive lesson even a pun may become, when it is deep in its purpose, and founded on a truth which is perfectly illustrated by the seeming equivocation. [Ruskin, "Fors Clavigera"]
late Old English pinn "peg or bolt of wood or metal used to hold things in place or fasten them together," from Proto-Germanic *penn- "jutting point or peak" (source also of Old Saxon pin "peg," Old Norse pinni "peg, tack," Middle Dutch pin "pin, peg," Old High German pfinn, German Pinne "pin, tack") from Latin pinna "a feather, plume;" in plural "a wing;" also "fin, scoop of a water wheel;" also "a pinnacle; a promontory, cape; battlement" (as in Luke iv.9 in Vulgate) and so applied to "points" of various sorts, from PIE root *pet- "to rush, to fly."
De Vaan and Watkins say Latin pinna is a derivative of penna, literally "feather" (see pen (n.1)); older theories regarded pinna as a separate word from a root meaning "sharp point." The Latin word also was borrowed in Celtic: Irish pinne "a pin, peg, spigot;" Welsh pin "a pin, pen."
The transition from 'feather' to 'pin' (a slender or pointed instrument) appears to have been through 'pen,' a quill, to ' pen,' a style or stylus, hence any slender or pointed instrument [Century Dictionary]
As a part of a lock or latch, c. 1200; as a control for a mechanical device, late 14c. The modern slender wire pin, used as a fastener for clothing or in sewing, is attested by this name by late 14c., perhaps late 13c. Transferred sense of "leg" is recorded from 1520s and holds the older sense. The meaning "wooden stick or club set up to be knocked down in a game" (skittles, bowling, etc.) is by 1570s.
Pin-money "annual sum allotted to a woman for personal expenses on dress, etc." is attested from 1620s. Pins and needles "tingling sensation" is from 1810. The sound of a pin dropping as a type of something all but silent is from 1775.
Perhaps it is related to Middle Low German keie "lance, spear" on notion of "tool to cleave with," from Proto-Germanic *ki- "to cleave, split" (cognates: German Keil "wedge," Gothic us-kijans "come forth," said of seed sprouts, keinan "to germinate"). But Liberman writes, "The original meaning of *kaig-jo- was presumably '*pin with a twisted end.' Words with the root *kai- followed by a consonant meaning 'crooked, bent; twisted' are common only in the North Germanic languages." Compare also Sanskrit kuncika- "key," from kunc- "make crooked."
Modern pronunciation is a northern variant predominating from c. 1700; earlier and in Middle English it often was pronounced "kay." Meaning "that which holds together other parts" is from 1520s. Meaning "explanation of a solution" (to a set problem, code, etc.) is from c.1600.
The musical sense originally was "tone, note" (mid-15c.). In music theory, the sense developed 17c. to "sum of the melodic and harmonic relationships in the tones of a scale," also "melodic and harmonic relationships centering on a given tone." Probably this is based on a translation of Latin clavis "key," used by Guido for "lowest tone of a scale," or French clef (see clef; also see keynote). Sense of "mechanism on a musical instrument operated by the player's fingers" is from c. 1500, probably also suggested by uses of clavis. OED says this use "appears to be confined to Eng[lish]." First of organs and pianos, by 1765 of wind instruments; transferred to telegraphy by 1837 and later to typewriters (1876).