10th letter of the English alphabet, pronounced "jay," as in "kay" for -k-, but formerly written out as jy, rhyming with -i- and corresponding to French ji.
One of the most stable English letters (it has almost always the same sound), it is a latecomer to the alphabet and originally had no sound value. The letter itself began as a scribal modification of Roman -i- in continental Medieval Latin. The scribes added a "hook" to small -i-, especially in the final position in a word or roman numeral, to distinguish it from the strokes of other letters. The dot on the -i- (and thus the -j-) and the capitalization of the pronoun I are other solutions to the same problems.
In English, -j- was used as a roman numeral throughout Middle English, but the letter -y- was used to spell words ending an "i" sound, so -j- was not needed to represent a sound. Instead, it was introduced into English c. 1600-1640 to take up the consonantal sound that had evolved from the Roman i- since Late Latin times. In Italian, g- was used to represent this, but in other languages j- took the job. This usage is attested earliest in Spanish, where it was in place before 1600.
No word beginning with J is of Old English derivation. [OED]
English dictionaries did not distinguish words beginning in -i- and -j- until 19c., and -j- formerly was skipped when letters were used to express serial order.
In Latin texts printed in modern times, -j- often is used to represent Latin -i- before -a-, -e-, -o-, -u- in the same syllable, which in Latin was sounded as the consonant in Modern English you, yam, etc., but the custom has been controversial among Latinists:
The character J, j, which represents the letter sound in some school-books, is an invention of the seventeenth century, and is not found in MSS., nor in the best texts of the Latin authors. [Lewis]
In English words from Hebrew, -j- represents yodh, which was equivalent to English consonantal y (hence hallelujah) but many of the Hebrew names later were conformed in sound to the modern -j- (compare Jesus).
Middle English kēpen, from late Old English cepan (past tense cepte) "to seize, hold; seek after, desire," also "to observe or carry out in practice; look out for, regard, pay attention to," from Proto-Germanic *kopjan, which is of uncertain origin. Old English cepan was used c. 1000 to render Latin observare, so perhaps it is related to Old English capian "to look" (from Proto-Germanic *kap-), which would make the basic sense "to keep an eye on, see to it."
The word prob. belonged primarily to the vulgar and non-literary stratum of the language; but it comes up suddenly into literary use c. 1000, and that in many senses, indicating considerable previous development. [OED]
The senses exploded in Middle English: "to guard, defend" (12c.); "restrain (someone) from doing something" (early 13c.); "take care of, look after; protect or preserve (someone or something) from harm, damage, etc." (mid-13c.); "preserve, maintain, carry on" a shop, store, etc. (mid-14c.); "prevent from entering or leaving, force to remain or stay" (late 14c.); "preserve (something) without loss or change," also "not divulge" a secret, private information, etc., also "to last without spoiling" (late 14c.); "continue on" (a course, road, etc.), "adhere to" a course of action (late 14c.); "stay or remain" (early 15c.); "to continue" (doing something) (mid-15c.). It is used to translate both Latin conservare "preserve, keep safe" and tenere "to keep, retain."
From 1540s as "maintain for ready use;" 1706 as "have habitually in stock for sale." Meaning "financially support and privately control" (usually in reference to mistresses) is from 1540s; meaning "maintain in proper order" (of books, accounts) is from 1550s.
To keep at "work persistently" is from 1825; to keep on "continue, persist" is from 1580s. To keep up is from 1630s as "continue alongside, proceed in pace with," 1660s as "maintain in good order or condition, retain, preserve," 1680s as "support, hold in an existing state." To keep it up "continue (something) vigorously" is from 1752. To keep to "restrict (oneself) to" is from 1711. To keep off (trans.) "hinder from approach or attack" is from 1540s; to keep out (trans.) "prevent from entering" is from early 15c.
slang for "backside," first attested 1860 in nautical slang, in popular use from 1930; chiefly U.S.; from dialectal variant pronunciation of arse (q.v.). The loss of -r- before -s- is attested in other words (burst/bust, curse/cuss, horse/hoss, barse/bass, garsh/gash, parcel/passel).
Indirect evidence of the change from arse to ass can be traced to 17c. By 1680s arse was being pronounced to rhyme with "-ass" words, as in "Sodom or the Quintessence of Debauchery": "I would advise you, sir, to make a pass/Once more at Pockenello's loyal arse." It is perhaps as early as Shakespeare's day, if Nick Bottom transformed into a donkey in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1594) is the word-play some think it is.
I must to the barber's, mounsieur; for me thinks I am marvellous hairy about the face; and I am such a tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me, I must scratch. [Bottom]
By 1785 polite speakers were avoiding ass in the "donkey" sense.
Meaning "woman regarded as a sexual object" is by early 1940s (piece of ass seems to be implied in 1930s Tijuana Bibles), but the image is older (compare buttock "a common strumpet," 1670s). To have (one's) head up (one's) ass "not know what one is doing" is attested by 1969. Colloquial (one's) ass "one's self, one's person" attested by 1958. To work (one's) ass off "work very much" is by 1946; to laugh (one's) ass off "laugh very much" is by 1972 (implied from 1965). The (stick it) up your ass oath is attested by 1953; apparent euphemisms suggest earlier use:
He snoighed up his nose as if th' cheese stunk, eyed me wi an air o contempt fro my shoon to my yed, un deawn ogen fro my yed to my shoon ; un then pushin th' brade un cheese into my hont ogen, he says "Take your vile bread and cheese and stick it up your coat sleeve, and be demmed to you. Do you think I want your paltry grub?" Un then, turnin on his heel, he hurried into th' perk. ["Bobby Shuttle un His Woife Sayroh's Visit to Manchester," 1857]
Old English gōd (with a long "o") "excellent, fine; valuable; desirable, favorable, beneficial; full, entire, complete;" of abstractions, actions, etc., "beneficial, effective; righteous, pious;" of persons or souls, "righteous, pious, virtuous;" probably originally "having the right or desirable quality," from Proto-Germanic *gōda- "fitting, suitable" (source also of Old Frisian god, Old Saxon gōd, Old Norse goðr, Middle Dutch goed, Dutch goed, Old High German guot, German gut, Gothic goþs). A word of uncertain etymology, perhaps originally "fit, adequate, belonging together," from PIE root *ghedh- "to unite, be associated, suitable" (source also of Sanskrit gadh- "seize (booty)," Old Church Slavonic godu "favorable time," Russian godnyi "fit, suitable," Lithuanian goda "honor," Old English gædrian "to gather, to take up together").
Sense of "kind, benevolent" is from late Old English in reference to persons or God, from mid-14c. of actions. Middle English sense of "holy" is preserved in Good Friday. That of "friendly, gracious" is from c. 1200. Meaning "fortunate, prosperous, favorable" was in late Old English. As an expression of satisfaction, from early 15c. Of persons, "skilled (at a profession or occupation), expert," in late Old English, now typically with at; in Middle English with of or to. Of children, "well-behaved," by 1690s. Of money, "not debased, standard as to value," from late 14c. From c. 1200 of numbers or quantities, "large, great," of time or distance, "long;" good while "a considerable time" is from c. 1300; good way "a great distance" is mid-15c.
Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing. ["As You Like It"]
As good as "practically, virtually" is from mid-14c.; to be good for "beneficial to" is from late 14c. To make good "repay (costs, expenses), atone for (a sin or an offense)" is from late 14c. To have a good mind "have an earnest desire" (to do something) is from c. 1500. Good deed, good works were in Old English as "an act of piety;" good deed specifically as "act of service to others" was reinforced early 20c. by Boy Scouting. Good turn is from c. 1400. Good sport, of persons, is from 1906. The good book "the Bible" attested from 1801, originally in missionary literature describing the language of conversion efforts in American Indian tribes. Good to go is attested from 1989.
1507, "the western hemisphere, North and South America," in Cartographer Martin Waldseemüller's treatise "Cosmographiae Introductio," from Modern Latin Americanus, after Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) who made two trips to the New World as a navigator and claimed to have discovered it. His published works put forward the idea that it was a new continent, and he was first to call it Novus Mundus "New World." Amerigo is more easily Latinized than Vespucci (Latin Vesputius, which might have yielded place-name Vesputia). The sense in English naturally was restricted toward the British colonies, then the United States.
The man's name Amerigo is Germanic, said to derive from Gothic Amalrich, literally "work-ruler." The Old English form of the name has come down as surnames Emmerich, Emery, etc. The Italian fem. form merged into Amelia.
Colloquial pronunciation "Ameri-kay," not uncommon 19c., goes back to at least 1643 and a poem that rhymed the word with away. Amerika "U.S. society viewed as racist, fascist, oppressive, etc." is attested from 1969; the spelling is German but may also suggest the KKK.
It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have the power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about "Appalachia." In the first place, it is distinctive. "America" is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right — but to use it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is "America," and will insist upon remaining so. [Edgar Allan Poe, "Marginalia," in Graham's Magazine, Philadelphia, December 1846]
FREDONIA, FREDONIAN, FREDE, FREDISH, &c. &c. These extraordinary words, which have been deservedly ridiculed here as well as in England, were proposed sometime ago, and countenanced by two or three individuals, as names for the territory and people of the United States. The general term American is now commonly understood (at least in all places where the English language is spoken,) to mean an inhabitant of the United States; and is so employed, except where unusual precision of language is required. [John Pickering, "A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases Which Have Been Supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America," Boston, 1816]
Old English freo "exempt from; not in bondage, acting of one's own will," also "noble; joyful," from Proto-Germanic *friaz "beloved; not in bondage" (source also of Old Frisian fri, Old Saxon vri, Old High German vri, German frei, Dutch vrij, Gothic freis "free"), from PIE *priy-a- "dear, beloved," from root *pri- "to love."
The sense evolution from "to love" to "free" is perhaps from the terms "beloved" or "friend" being applied to the free members of one's clan (as opposed to slaves; compare Latin liberi, meaning both "free persons" and "children of a family"). For the older sense in Germanic, compare Gothic frijon "to love;" Old English freod "affection, friendship, peace," friga "love," friðu "peace;" Old Norse friðr "peace, personal security; love, friendship," German Friede "peace;" Old English freo "wife;" Old Norse Frigg, name of the wife of Odin, literally "beloved" or "loving;" Middle Low German vrien "to take to wife," Dutch vrijen, German freien "to woo."
Meaning "clear of obstruction" is from mid-13c.; sense of "unrestrained in movement" is from c. 1300; of animals, "loose, at liberty, wild," late 14c. Meaning "liberal, not parsimonious" is from c. 1300. Sense of "characterized by liberty of action or expression" is from 1630s; of art, etc., "not holding strictly to rule or form," from 1813. Of nations, "not subject to foreign rule or to despotism," recorded in English from late 14c. (Free world "non-communist nations" attested from 1950 on notion of "based on principles of civil liberty.") Sense of "given without cost" is 1580s, from notion of "free of cost."
Free even to the definition of freedom, "without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution." [Emerson, "The American Scholar," 1837]
Free lunch, originally offered in bars to draw in customers, by 1850, American English. Free pass on railways, etc., attested by 1850. Free speech in Britain was used of a privilege in Parliament since the time of Henry VIII. In U.S., in reference to a civil right to expression, it became a prominent phrase in the debates over the Gag Rule (1836). Free enterprise recorded from 1832; free trade is from 1823; free market from 1630s. Free will is from early 13c. Free school is from late 15c. Free association in psychology is from 1899. Free love "sexual liberation" attested from 1822 (the doctrine itself is much older), American English. Free and easy "unrestrained" is from 1690s.
Old English hond, hand "the human hand;" also "side, part, direction" (in defining position, to either right or left); also "power, control, possession" (on the notion of the hand's grip or hold), from Proto-Germanic *handuz (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch, German hand, Old Norse hönd, Gothic handus), which is of uncertain origin.
The original Old English plural handa was superseded in Middle English by handen, later hands. Indo-European "hand" words tend to be from roots meaning "seize, take, collect" or are extended from words originally meaning only a part of the hand (such as Irish lam, Welsh llaw, cognate with Latin palma and originally meaning "palm of the hand"). One ancient root (*man- (2)), represented by Latin manus is the source of Old English mund "hand," but more usually meaning "protection, guardianship; a protector, guardian."
Meaning "manual worker, person who does something with his hands" is from 1580s, hence "hired workman" (1630s) and "sailor in a ship's crew" (1660s). Meaning "agency, part in doing something" is from 1590s. Clock and watch sense is from 1570s. Meaning "round of applause" is from 1838. The linear measure of 4 inches (originally 3) is from 1560s, now used only in giving the height of horses. The meaning "playing cards held in one player's hand" is from 1620s; that of "a round at a card game" is from 1620s. Meaning "handwriting" is from late 14c.; also "one's style of penmanship" (early 15c.). The word in reference to the various uses of hands in making a pledge is by c. 1200; specifically "one's pledge of marriage" by late 14c.
First hand, second hand, etc. (mid-15c.) are from the notion of something being passed from hand to hand. At hand is from c. 1200 as "near in time," c. 1300 as "within reach." Out of hand (1590s) is opposite of in hand "under control" (c. 1200). Adverbial phrase hand-over-fist (1803) is nautical, suggestive of hauling or climbing by passing the hands one before the other alternately.
Phrase on the one hand ... on the other hand is recorded from 1630s, a figurative use of the physical sense of hand in reference to position on one side or the other side of the body (as in the lefthand side), which goes back to Old English Hands up! as a command from a policeman, robber, etc., is from 1863, from the image of holding up one's hands as a token of submission or non-resistance. Hand-to-hand "in close contact," of fighting, is from c. 1400. Hand-to-mouth "said of a person who spends his money as fast as he gets it, who earns just enough to live on from day to day" [Bartlett] is from c. 1500. Hand-in-hand attested from c. 1500 as "with hands clasped;" figurative sense of "concurrently" recorded from 1570s.
eleventh Roman letter, from Greek kappa, from Phoenician kaph or a similar Semitic source, said to mean literally "hollow of the hand" and to be so called for its shape.
Little used in classical Latin, which at an early age conformed most of its words (the exceptions had ritual importance) to a spelling using -c- (a character derived from Greek gamma). In Late Latin, pronunciation of -c- shifted (in the direction of "s"). Greek names brought into Latin also were regularized with a -c- spelling, and then underwent the Late Latin sound-shift; hence the modern pronunciation of Cyrus, Circe. To keep their pronunciation clear, the many Greek words (often Church words) that entered Latin after this shift tended to take Latin -k- for Greek kappa.
K- thus became a supplementary letter to -c- in Medieval Latin, used with Greek and foreign words. But most of the languages descended from Latin had little need of it, having evolved other solutions to the sound shifts.
K- also was scarce in Old English. After the Norman conquest, new scribal habits restricted -c- and expanded the use of -k-, which began to be common in English spelling from 13c. This probably was done because the sound value of -c- was evolving in French and the other letter was available to clearly mark the "k" sound for scribes working in English. For more, see C.
In words transliterated from Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc., it represents several different sounds lumped. In modern use some of them are now with kh-; in older borrowings they often followed traditional English spelling and were written with a C- (Corea, Caaba, etc.).
As a symbol for potassium, it represents Latin kalium "potash." In CMYK as a color system for commercial printing it means "black" but seems to stand for key in a specialized printing sense. Slang meaning "one thousand dollars" is 1970s, from kilo-. K as a measure of capacity (especially in computer memory) meaning "one thousand" also is an abbreviation of kilo-.
As an indication of "strikeout" in baseball score-keeping it dates from 1874 and is said to represent the last letter of struck. The invention of the scorecard symbols is attributed to English-born U.S. newspaperman Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) principally of the old New York "Clipper," who had been writing baseball since 1858, and who explained it thus:
Smith was the first striker, and went out on three strikes, which is recorded by the figure "1" for the first out, and the letter K to indicate how put out, K being the last letter of the word "struck." The letter K is used in this instance as being easier to remember in connection with the word struck than S, the first letter, would be. [Henry Chadwick, "Chadwick's Base Ball Manual," London, 1874]
"a featherless plantigrade biped mammal of the genus Homo" [Century Dictionary], Old English man, mann "human being, person (male or female); brave man, hero;" also "servant, vassal, adult male considered as under the control of another person," from Proto-Germanic *mann- (source also of Old Saxon, Swedish, Dutch, Old High German man, Old Frisian mon, German Mann, Old Norse maðr, Danish mand, Gothic manna "man"), from PIE root *man- (1) "man." For the plural, see men.
Sometimes connected to root *men- (1) "to think," which would make the ground sense of man "one who has intelligence," but not all linguists accept this. Liberman, for instance, writes, "Most probably man 'human being' is a secularized divine name" from Mannus [Tacitus, "Germania," chap. 2], "believed to be the progenitor of the human race."
Specific sense of "adult male of the human race" (distinguished from a woman or boy) is by late Old English (c. 1000); Old English used wer and wif to distinguish the sexes, but wer began to disappear late 13c. and was replaced by man. Universal sense of the word remains in mankind and manslaughter. Similarly, Latin had homo "human being" and vir "adult male human being," but they merged in Vulgar Latin, with homo extended to both senses. A like evolution took place in Slavic languages, and in some of them the word has narrowed to mean "husband." PIE had two other "man" roots: *uiHro "freeman" (source of Sanskrit vira-, Lithuanian vyras, Latin vir, Old Irish fer, Gothic wair; see *wi-ro-) and *hner "man," a title more of honor than *uiHro (source of Sanskrit nar-, Armenian ayr, Welsh ner, Greek anēr; see *ner- (2)).
Man also was in Old English as an indefinite pronoun, "one, people, they." It was used generically for "the human race, mankind" by c. 1200. As a word of familiar address, originally often implying impatience, c.1400; hence probably its use as an interjection of surprise or emphasis, since Middle English but especially popular from early 20c.
As "a woman's lover," by mid-14c. As "adult male possessing manly qualities in an eminent degree," from 14c. Man's man, one whose qualities are appreciated by other men, is by 1873. Colloquial use of the Man for "the boss" is by 1918. To be man or mouse "be brave or be timid" is from 1540s. Meaning "piece with which a game (especially chess) is played" is from c. 1400.
Man-about-town "man of the leisure class who frequents clubs, theaters, and other social resorts" is from 1734. Man of the world is from mid-14c. as "secular man, layman;" by early 15c. as "man experienced in the ways of the world, one able to take things in stride." To do something as one man "unanimously" is from late 14c.
So I am as he that seythe, 'Come hyddr John, my man.' 
MANTRAP, a woman's commodity. [Grose, "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," London, 1785]
At the kinges court, my brother, Ech man for himself. [Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," c. 1386]
"to have sexual intercourse with" (transitive), until recently a difficult word to trace in usage, in part because it was omitted as taboo by the editors of the original OED when the "F" entries were compiled (1893-97). Johnson also had excluded the word, and fuck wasn't in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. "The Penguin Dictionary" broke the taboo in the latter year. Houghton Mifflin followed, in 1969, with "The American Heritage Dictionary," but it also published a "Clean Green" edition without the word, to assure itself access to the public high school market.
Written form attested from at least early 16c.; OED 2nd edition cites 1503, in the form fukkit, and the earliest attested appearance of current spelling is 1535 ("Bischops ... may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit" [Sir David Lyndesay, "Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits"]). Presumably it is a more ancient word, but one not written in the kind of texts that have survived from Old English and Middle English [September 2015: the verb appears to have been found recently in an English court manuscript from 1310]. Buck cites proper name John le Fucker from 1278, but that surname could have other explanations. The word apparently is hinted at in a scurrilous 15c. poem, titled "Flen flyys" ["Fleas, Flies (and Friars)"], written in bastard Latin and Middle English. The relevant line reads:
Non sunt in celi
quia fuccant uuiuys of heli
"They [the monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of [the town of] Ely." Fuccant is pseudo-Latin, and in the original it is written in cipher. The earliest examples of the word otherwise are from Scottish, which suggests a Scandinavian origin, perhaps from a word akin to Norwegian dialectal fukka "copulate," or Swedish dialectal focka "copulate, strike, push," and fock "penis."
Another theory traces the Modern English verb to Middle English fyke, fike "move restlessly, fidget" (see fike) which also meant "dally, flirt," and probably is from a general North Sea Germanic word (compare Middle Dutch fokken, German ficken "fuck," earlier "make quick movements to and fro, flick," still earlier "itch, scratch;" the vulgar sense attested from 16c.). This would parallel in sense the vulgar Middle English term for "have sexual intercourse," swive, from Old English swifan "to move lightly over, sweep" (see swivel). But OED remarks that these "cannot be shown to be related" to the English word. Liberman has this to say:
Germanic words of similar form (f + vowel + consonant) and meaning 'copulate' are numerous. One of them is G. ficken. They often have additional senses, especially 'cheat,' but their basic meaning is 'move back and forth.' ... Most probably, fuck is a borrowing from Low German and has no cognates outside Germanic.
Chronology and phonology rule out Shipley's attempt to derive it from Middle English firk "to press hard, beat." The unkillable urban legend that this word is an acronym of some sort (a fiction traceable on the internet to 1995 but probably predating that), and the "pluck yew" fable, are results of ingenious trifling (also see here). The Old English verb for "have sexual intercourse with" was hæman, from ham "dwelling, home," with a sense of "take home, co-habit." French foutre and Italian fottere seem to resemble the English word but are unrelated, descending rather from Latin futuere, which perhaps is from PIE root *bhau- "to strike," extended via a figurative use "from the sexual application of violent action" [Shipley; compare the sexual slang use of bang, etc.].
Fuck was outlawed in print in England (by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857) and the U.S. (by the Comstock Act, 1873). The word continued in common speech, however. During World War I:
It became so common that an effective way for the soldier to express this emotion was to omit this word. Thus if a sergeant said, 'Get your ----ing rifles!' it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said 'Get your rifles!' there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger. [John Brophy, "Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918," pub. 1930]
The legal barriers against use in print broke down in mid-20c. with the "Ulysses" decision (U.S., 1933) and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (U.S., 1959; U.K., 1960). The major breakthrough in publication was James Jones' "From Here to Eternity" (1950), with 50 fucks (down from 258 in the original manuscript).
The abbreviation F (or eff) probably began as euphemistic, but by 1943 it was regarded as a cuss word in its own right. In 1948, the publishers of "The Naked and the Dead" persuaded Norman Mailer to use the euphemism fug. When Mailer later was introduced to Dorothy Parker, she greeted him with, "So you're the man who can't spell 'fuck' " [The quip sometimes is attributed to Tallulah Bankhead]. As a written euphemism, muck is attested by 1929 (Hemingway used it in "For Whom the Bell Tolls," 1940). Related: Fucked; fucking.
Fuck-all "nothing" first recorded 1960. Verbal phrase fuck up "to ruin, spoil, destroy" is attested from c. 1916. A widespread group of Slavic words (such as Polish pierdolić) can mean both "fornicate" and "make a mistake." Fuck off is attested from 1929; as a command to depart, by 1944. Egyptian legal agreements from the 23rd Dynasty (749-21 B.C.E.) frequently include the phrase, "If you do not obey this decree, may a donkey copulate with you!" [Reinhold Aman, "Maledicta," Summer 1977].