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.
c. 1300, "to send or transport (merchandise, people) by ship; to board a ship; to travel by ship, sail, set sail," also figurative, from ship (n.). Old English scipian is attested only in the senses "take ship, embark; be furnished with a ship." Transferred to other means of conveyance (railroad, etc.) by 1857 in American English. U.S. military phrase ship out "be transported, depart" is by 1948. Related: Shipped; shipping.
word-forming element meaning "quality, condition; act, power, skill; office, position; relation between," Middle English -schipe, from Old English -sciepe, Anglian -scip "state, condition of being," from Proto-Germanic *-skepi- (cognates: Old Norse -skapr, Danish -skab, Old Frisian -skip, Dutch -schap, German -schaft), from *skap- "to create, ordain, appoint," from PIE root *(s)kep-, forming words meaning "to cut, scrape, hack" (see shape (v.)). It often forms abstracts to go with corresponding concretes (friend/friendship, etc.).
"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").
Middle English ship, "seagoing vessel," especially a large one, from Old English scip "ship, boat, vessel of considerable size adapted to navigation," from Proto-Germanic *skipa- (source also of Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Gothic skip, Danish skib, Swedish skepp, Middle Dutch scip, Dutch schip, Old High German skif, German Schiff). Watkins calls this a "Germanic noun of obscure origin." OED says "the ultimate etymology is uncertain." Traditionally since Pokorny it is derived from PIE root *skei- "to cut, split," perhaps on the notion of a tree cut out or hollowed out, but the semantic connection is unclear. Boutkan gives it "No certain IE etymology."
Now a vessel of considerable size; the Old English word was used for small craft as well, and definitions changed over time; in 19c., a ship was distinguished from a boat in having a bowsprit and three masts, each with a lower, top, and topgallant mast.
French esquif, Italian schifo are Germanic loan-words. By 1590s as the name of a southern constellation (Argo Navis). When personified, ships usually were feminine at least from late 14c., but in 17c.-18c. masculine pronouns became more common, perhaps by influence of the use of man in names such as man-of-war, Dutchman, merchantman. In such combinations, man in the sense of "a ship" is attested from late 15c.
Phrase ships that pass in the night is from Longfellow's poem "Elizabeth" in "Tales of a Wayside Inn" (1863). Expression when (one's) ship comes in "when one's affairs become prosperous" is attested by 1851. The figurative use of nautical tight ship (the notion may be one in which ropes, etc., are tightly stowed) is attested by 1965; compare shipshape.
The model ship inside a bottle with a neck much narrower than the ship is attested by 1920. Ship of fools is in the title of the 1509 translation of Brant's Narrenschiff (1494).
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.