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.
late 14c., of language, "German, non-Scandinavian continental Germanic," also as a noun, "a German language;" also in Duche-lond "Germany." By mid-15c. distinguished into Higher and Lower, and used after c. 1600 in the narrower sense "Hollanders, residents of the Netherlands." From Middle Dutch duutsch, from Old High German duitisc, from Proto-Germanic *theudō "popular, national" (source of Modern German Deutsch), from PIE *teuta- "tribe" (compare Teutonic).
It corresponds to the Old English adjective þeodisc "belonging to the people," which was used especially of the common language of Germanic people (as opposed to Latin), a derivative of the Old English noun þeod "people, race, nation." The language name is first attested in Latin as theodice (786 C.E.) in correspondence between Charlemagne's court and the Pope, in reference to a synodical conference in Mercia; thus it refers to Old English. Its first use in reference to a German language (as opposed to a Germanic one) is two years later. The sense was extended from the language to the people who spoke it (in German, Diutisklant, ancestor of Deutschland, was in use by 13c.).
The sense in of the adjective in English narrowed to "of the Netherlands" in 17c., after they became a united, independent state and the focus of English attention and rivalry. In Holland, Duits (formerly duitsch) is used of the people of Germany. The old use of Dutch for "German" continued in America (Irving and Cooper still distinguish High Dutch "German" and Low Dutch "Dutch") and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch for the descendants of religious sects that immigrated from the Rhineland and Switzerland and their language.
Since c. 1600, Dutch (adj.) has been a "pejorative label pinned by English speakers on almost anything they regard as inferior, irregular, or contrary to 'normal' (i.e., their own) practice" [Rawson]. E.g. ironical Dutch treat, of each person paying for himself (1887), Dutch courage "boldness inspired by intoxicating spirits" (1809), nautical Dutch talent "any piece of work not done in shipshape style (1867), etc. — probably exceeded in such usage only by Indian and Irish — reflecting first British commercial and military rivalry and later heavy German immigration to U.S.
Dutch concert, a concert in which each one sings his own song at the same time that his neighbor sings his; or a concert in which each one sings a verse of any song he pleases, some well-known chorus being sung after each verse. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
The Dutch themselves spoke English well enough to understand the unsavory connotations of the label and in 1934 Dutch officials were ordered by their government to stop using the term Dutch. Instead, they were to rewrite their sentences so as to employ the official The Netherlands. [Rawson]
Dutch oven is from 1769; OED lists it among the words describing things from Holland, but perhaps it is here used in the slighting sense. Dutch elm disease (1927) so called because it was first discovered in Holland (caused by fungus Ceratocystis ulmi). A Dutch uncle (1838) is one who is kindly severe and direct.
"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").