"the outline of a figure," 1660s, a term in painting and sculpture, from French contour "circumference, outline," from Italian and Medieval Latin contornare "to go around," from assimilated form of Latin com-, here perhaps an intensive prefix (see com-), + tornare "to turn (on a lathe);" see turn (v.).
Application to topography is from 1769. Earlier the word was used to mean "bedspread, quilt" (early 15c.) in reference to its falling over the sides of the mattress. Contour line in geography is from 1844. Contour-chair, one designed to fit the curves of the body, is from 1949.
As a verb, "mark with contour lines; form to the contours of," 1871. Related: Contoured.
*terə-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to rub, turn," with derivatives referring to twisting, also to boring, drilling, piercing; and to the rubbing of cereal grain to remove the husks, and thus to threshing.
It forms all or part of: atresia; attorn; attorney; attrition; contour; contrite; detour; detriment; diatribe; drill (v.) "bore a hole;" lithotripsy; return; septentrion; thrash; thread; thresh; throw; threshold; trauma; trepan; tribadism; tribology; tribulation; trite; triticale; triturate; trout; trypsin; tryptophan; turn.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit turah "wounded, hurt;" Greek teirein "to rub, rub away;" Latin terere "to rub, thresh, grind, wear away," tornus "turning lathe;" Old Church Slavonic tiro "to rub;" Lithuanian trinu, trinti "to rub," Old Irish tarathar "borer," Welsh taraw "to strike."
early 15c., liniament, "distinctive feature of the body, outline," from Latin lineamentum "contour, outline; a feature," literally "a line, stroke, mark," from lineare "to reduce to a straight line" (here apparently in an unrecorded sense "trace lines"), from linea "string, thread, line" (see line (n.)). Figurative sense of "a characteristic" is attested from 1630s.
also moulding, early 14c., "act of kneading;" late 14c., "process of shaping any plastic substance into a given form;" see mold (n.1). Architectural sense "construction element modified to introduce varieties of outline or contour" is from mid-15c.; carpentry sense is from 1670s.
c. 1400, deformen, difformen, "to disfigure, mar the natural form or shape of," from Old French deformer (13c.) and directly from Latin deformare "put out of shape, disfigure," from de (see de-) + formare "to shape, fashion, build," also figurative, from forma "form, contour, figure, shape" (see form (n.)). Related: Deformed; deforming.
mid-15c., deformacioun, "transformation, act of changing the form of," from Old French deformation and directly from Latin deformationem (nominative deformatio), noun of action from past participle stem of deformare "put out of shape, disfigure," from de (see de-) + formare "to shape, fashion, build," also figurative, from forma "form, contour, figure, shape" (see form (n.)). Meaning "deformity, disfigurement, alteration for the worse" is from 1540s.
early 15c., diformyte, "condition of being deformed; physical malformation or distortion," especially "disproportionate or unnatural development of a part or parts," from Old French deformité "deformity, disfigurement" (Modern French difformité), from Latin deformitatem (nominative deformitas) "ugliness, hideousness, deformity," from deformis "misformed, misshapen," from deformare "put out of shape, disfigure," from de (see de-) + formare "to shape, fashion, build," also figurative, from forma "form, contour, figure, shape" (see form (n.)).
From c. 1300 as "physical shape (of something), contour, outline," of a person, "shape of the body;" also "appearance, likeness;" also "the imprint of an object." From c. 1300 as "correct or appropriate way of doing something; established procedure; traditional usage; formal etiquette." Mid-14c. as "instrument for shaping; a mould;" late 14c. as "way in which something is done," also "pattern of a manufactured object." Used widely from late 14c. in theology and Platonic philosophy with senses "archetype of a thing or class; Platonic essence of a thing; the formative principle." From c. 1300 in law, "a legal agreement; terms of agreement," later "a legal document" (mid-14c.). Meaning "a document with blanks to be filled in" is from 1855. From 1590s as "systematic or orderly arrangement;" from 1610s as "mere ceremony." From 1550s as "a class or rank at school" (from sense "a fixed course of study," late 14c.). Form-fitting (adj.) in reference to clothing is from 1893.