early 13c., "of or pertaining to the head," from Old French capital, from Latin capitalis "of the head," hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive capitis) "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head"). The meaning "main, principal, chief, dominant, first in importance" is from early 15c. in English. The modern informal sense of "excellent, first-rate" is by 1754 (as an exclamation of approval, OED's first example is 1875), perhaps from earlier use of the word in reference to ships, "first-rate, powerful enough to be in the line of battle," attested from 1650s, fallen into disuse after 1918. Related: Capitally.
A capital letter "upper-case latter," of larger face and differing more or less in form (late 14c.) is so called because it stands at the "head" of a sentence or word. Capital gain is recorded from 1921. Capital goods is recorded from 1899.
A capital crime or offense (1520s) is one that involves the penalty of death and thus affects the life or "head" (capital had a sense of "deadly, mortal" from late 14c. in English, as it did earlier in Latin). The felt connection between "head" and "life, mortality" also existed in Old English: as in heafodgilt "deadly sin, capital offense," heafdes þolian "to forfeit life." Capital punishment was in Blackstone (1765) and classical Latin capitis poena.
region in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, from Munsee Delaware (Algonquian) chwewamink "at the big river flat," from /xw-/ "big" + /-e:wam-/ "river flat" + /-enk/ "place." Popularized by 1809 poem "Gertrude of Wyoming," set amid wars between Indians and American settlers, written by Scottish author Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), who seems to have had a vague or defective notion of Pennsylvania geography:
On Susquehanna's side, fair Wyoming!
Although the wild-flower on thy ruin'd wall,
And roofless homes, a sad remembrance bring,
Of what thy gentle people did befall;
Yet thou wert once the loveliest land of all
That see the Atlantic wave their morn restore.
Sweet land! may I thy lost delights recall,
And paint thy Gertrude in her bowers of yore,
Whose beauty was the love of Pennsylvania's shore!
et cetera. Subsequently applied 19c. to other locations (in Kansas, Ohio, and Wisconsin), and to a western territory organized July 25, 1868 (admitted as a state 1890).
On the same day there was debate in the Senate over the name for the new Territory. Territories often keep their names when they become States, so we may be glad that "Cheyenne," to be pronounced "Shy-en," was not adopted. "Lincoln" was rejected for an obvious and, no doubt, sound reason. Apparently, nobody had a better name to offer, though there must be plenty of Indian words that could properly be used, and, for the present, the insignificant "Wyoming" is retained. [The Nation, June 11, 1868]
"head of a column or pillar," late 13c., from Anglo-French capitel, Old French chapitel (Modern French chapiteau), or directly from Latin capitellum "head of a column or pillar," literally "little head," diminutive of caput "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head").
1610s, "a person's wealth," from Medieval Latin capitale "stock, property," noun use of neuter of Latin capitalis "capital, chief, first" (see capital (adj.)). From 1640s as "the wealth employed in carrying on a particular business," then, in a broader sense in political economy, "that part of the produce of industry which is available for further production" (1793).
[The term capital] made its first appearance in medieval Latin as an adjective capitalis (from caput, head) modifying the word pars, to designate the principal sum of a money loan. The principal part of a loan was contrasted with the "usury"—later called interest—the payment made to the lender in addition to the return of the sum lent. This usage, unknown to classical Latin, had become common by the thirteenth century and possibly had begun as early as 1100 A.D., in the first chartered towns of Europe. [Frank A. Fetter, "Reformulation of the Concepts of Capital and Income in Economics and Accounting," 1937, in "Capital, Interest, & Rent," 1977]
Also see cattle, and compare sense development of fee, and pecuniary. Middle English had chief money "principal fund" (mid-14c.). The noun use of the adjective in classical Latin meant "a capital crime."
late 14c.; see capital (adj.). So called because it is at the "head" of a sentence or word.
South Korean capital, from Korean soul, literally "capital." It was the national capital from 1392 until Japanese annexation in 1910.
Chinese capital, from bei "north" + jing "capital" (as opposed to Nanking, literally "southern capital").
1805, noun and adjective (Lewis and Clark), in reference to Uto-Aztecan people of the Great Basin and their language, a name of unknown origin. It first was applied to eastern Shoshones of Wyoming according to Bright, who uses the spelling Shoshoni. Related: Shoshonean.