Etymology
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checkmate (n.)

mid-14c., in chess, said of a king when it is in check and cannot escape it, from Old French eschec mat (Modern French échec et mat), which (with Spanish jaque y mate, Italian scacco-matto) is from Arabic shah mat "the king died" (see check (n.1)), which according to Barnhart is a misinterpretation of Persian mat "be astonished" as mata "to die," mat "he is dead." Hence Persian shah mat, if it is the ultimate source of the word, would be literally "the king is left helpless, the king is stumped."

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checkmate (v.)

late 14c., figurative, "to thwart, frustrate;" see checkmate (n.). As a verb in chess, from 1789. Related: Checkmated; checkmating.

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mate (v.2)

"to checkmate," c. 1300, from Old French mater "to checkmate, defeat, overcome," from mat "checkmated" (see checkmate (v.)).

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matador (n.)

"the slayer of the bull in a bull-fight," 1670s, from Spanish matador, literally "killer," from matar "to kill," which is of uncertain origin. Probably from Latin mactāre "to kill," originally "to honor by sacrifice," but this presents phonetic difficulties: "the regular evolution of this Latin base would have yielded *meitar in Portuguese and *mechar in Spanish" [Eva Núñez Méndez, "Diachronic Applications in Hispanic Linguistics"]. The alternative might be Arabic mata "he died," from Persian (see second element in checkmate).  Fem. form is matadora.

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check (n.1)

c. 1300, in chess, "a call noting one's move has placed his opponent's king (or another major piece) in immediate peril," from Old French eschequier "a check at chess" (also "chess board, chess set"), from eschec "the game of chess; chessboard; check; checkmate," from Vulgar Latin *scaccus, from Arabic shah, from Persian shah "king," the principal piece in a chess game (see shah; also compare checkmate (n.)). Also c. 1300 in a generalized sense, "harmful incident or event, hostile environment."

As "an exposure of the king to a direct attack from an opposing piece" early 15c. When his king is in check, a player's choices are severely limited. From that notion come the many extended senses: From the notion of "a sudden stoppage, hindrance, restraint" (1510s) comes that of "act or means of checking or restraining," also "means of detecting or exposing or preventing error; a check against forgery or alteration.

"Hence: "a counter-register as a token of ownership used to check against, and prevent, loss or theft" (as in hat check, etc.), 1812.  Hence also the financial use for "written order for money drawn on a bank, money draft" (1798, often spelled cheque), which was probably influenced by exchequer. Hence also "mark put against names or items on a list indicating they have been verified or otherwise examined" (by 1856).

From its use in chess the word has been widely transferred in French and English. In the sense-extension, the sb. and vb. have acted and reacted on each other, so that it is difficult to trace and exhibit the order in which special senses arose [OED]

Meaning "restaurant bill" is from 1869. Checking account is attested from 1897, American English. Blank check in the figurative sense is attested by 1849 (compare carte blanche). Checks and balances is from 1782, perhaps originally suggesting machinery.

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mate (n.2)

in chess, "a condition of checkmate, the state of the king when he is in check and cannot move out of it," c. 1300, mat, from Old French mat, from mater "to checkmate" (see mate (v.2)).

Fool's mate, a mode of checkmate in which the tyro, moving first, is mated by his opponent's second move.—Scholar's mate, a simple mode of checkmate, sometimes practised on inexperienced players, in which the skilled player's queen, supported by a bishop, mates the tyro in four moves. [Century Dictionary]
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stalemate (n.)
1765, in chess, from stale "stalemate" (early 15c.) + mate (n.2) "checkmate." Middle English stale is probably from Anglo-French estale "standstill" (see stall (n.2)). A misnomer, because a stale is not a mate. "In England from the 17th c. to the beginning of the 19th c. the player who received stalemate won the game" [OED]. Figurative sense is recorded from 1885. As a verb from 1765; figurative from 1861.
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mat (adj.)
1640s, "lusterless, dull" (of a color or surface), from French mat "dull, dead surface," from Old French mat "beaten down, withered, afflicted, dejected; dull," which is perhaps from Latin mattus "maudlin with drink," from madere "to be wet or sodden, be drunk," from PIE root *mad- "to be wet, drip" (see mast (n.2)). Or the French word might represent a transferred use from chess of mater "to checkmate, defeat," from Arabic (see mate (v.2)).
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chess (n.)

very ancient game of skill with 32 pieces, played by two on a checkered board of 64 squares, 13c., from Old French esches "chessmen," plural of eschec "game of chess, chessboard; checkmate" (see check (n.1)), from the key move of the game. Modern French distinguishes échec "check, blow, rebuff, defeat," from plural échecs "chess."

The original word for "chess" is Sanskrit chaturanga "four members of an army" -- elephants, horses, chariots, foot soldiers. This is preserved in Spanish ajedrez, from Arabic (al) shat-ranj, from Persian chatrang, from the Sanskrit word.

The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chessboard, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem. [Marcel Duchamp, address to New York State Chess Association, Aug. 30, 1952]
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