"next in order after the third; an ordinal numeral; being one of four equal parts into which a whole is regarded as divided;" mid-15c., alteration (by influence of four), of ferthe, from Old English feorða "fourth," from Proto-Germanic *feurthan (source also of Old Saxon fiortho, Old Norse fiorðe, Dutch vierde, Old High German fiordo, German vierte); see four + -th (1). As a noun from 1590s, both of fractions and in music.
Among the old Quakers, who rejected the pagan weekday names, fourth day was Wednesday, often a secondary day of meeting for worship. Fourth-dimension attested from 1844. The theatrical fourth wall is from 1807. The celebration of the Fourth of July as the epoch of American independence is attested from 1777.
That there is due to Daniel Smith, of the city tavern, for his bill of expences of Congress, on the 4 of July last, including a balance of an old account, the sum of 729 68/90 dollars; also a bill for materials, workmanship, &c furnished for the fire works on the 4 July, the sum of 102 69/90 dollars .... [Auditor General's report, Aug. 8, 1777, Journals of Congress, vol. VII]
Old English woruld, worold "human existence, the affairs of life," also "a long period of time," also "the human race, mankind, humanity," a word peculiar to Germanic languages (cognates: Old Saxon werold, Old Frisian warld, Dutch wereld, Old Norse verold, Old High German weralt, German Welt), with a literal sense of "age of man," from Proto-Germanic *weraldi-, a compound of *wer "man" (Old English wer, still in werewolf; see virile) + *ald "age" (from PIE root *al- (2) "to grow, nourish").
Originally "life on earth, this world (as opposed to the afterlife)," sense extended to "the known world," then to "the physical world in the broadest sense, the universe" (c. 1200). In Old English gospels, the commonest word for "the physical world," was Middangeard (Old Norse Midgard), literally "the middle enclosure" (see yard (n.1)), which is rooted in Germanic cosmology. Greek kosmos in its ecclesiastical sense of "world of people" sometimes was rendered in Gothic as manaseþs, literally "seed of man." The usual Old Norse word was heimr, literally "abode" (see home). Words for "world" in some other Indo-European languages derive from the root for "bottom, foundation" (such as Irish domun, Old Church Slavonic duno, related to English deep); the Lithuanian word is pasaulis, from pa- "under" + saulė "sun."
Original sense in world without end, translating Latin saecula saeculorum, and in worldly. Latin saeculum can mean both "age" and "world," as can Greek aiōn. Meaning "a great quantity or number" is from 1580s. Out of this world "surpassing, marvelous" is from 1928; earlier it meant "dead." World Cup is by 1951; U.S. baseball World Series is by 1893 (originally often World's Series). World power in the geopolitical sense first recorded 1900. World-class is attested from 1950, originally of Olympic athletes.
"the press," by 1824, and especially from 1831, British English. For the other three, see estate. Earlier the term had been applied in various senses that did not stick, including "the mob" (1752), "the lawyers" (1825). The extension to the press is perhaps an outgrowth of the former.
Hence, through the light of letters and the liberty of the press, public opinion has risen to the rank of a fourth estate in our constitution; in times of quiet and order, silent and still, but in the collisions of the different branches of our government, deciding as an umpire with unbounded authority. ["Memoir of James Currie, M.D.," 1831]
[Newspapers] began to assume some degree of political importance, during the civil wars of the seventeenth century, in England; but it is not until within the last fifty years that they have become, — as they are now justly styled, — a Fourth Estate, exercising a more powerful influence on the public affairs of the countries in which they are permitted to circulate freely, than the other three put together. [Alexander H. Everett, "Address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Bowdoin College," 1834]
1963, from French tiers monde, formulated 1952 by French economic historian Alfred Sauvy (1898-1990) on model of the third estate (French tiers état) of Revolutionary France; his first world (The West) and second world (the Soviet bloc) never caught on.
attested by 1898 as a speculation.
If through fear of entangling alliances the United States should return the Philippines to Spain, Mr. Page asserted that the predatory nations would swoop down upon them and a world war would result. [New York Times, Dec. 16, 1898]
Applied to the first one almost as soon as it began in 1914 ("England has Thrown Lot with France in World War" — headline, Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 2, 1914). World War I was coined 1939, replacing Great War as the most common name for it; First World War, World War II, and Second World War all also are from 1939. Old English had woruldgewinn, woruldgefeoht, both of which might be translated "world war," but with "world" in the sense of "earthly, secular."
1712, "belonging to a prehistoric age," see old + world. Meaning "of or pertaining to Eurasia and Africa," as opposed to the Americas, is by 1877. The noun phrase Old World in this sense is by 1590s. The division of the earth into Old World and New World among Europeans dates to 1503 and Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci's use of Latin Mundus Novus for the lands of the western hemisphere found by Columbus and others, indicating they were not part of Asia.
The Known World is usually divided into four Parts, Europe, Asia, Africk and America. But it is a most unequal Division, and I think it more rational to divide it thus. Viz. the Known World, first into two Parts, the Old and the New World; then the Old World into three, Europe, Asia, and Africa; and the New into two, the Northern and Southern America. [Guy Miege, "A New Cosmography, or Survey of the Whole World," London, 1682]
1930, originally of the Bank for International Settlements, set up in Basel by the League of Nations. The modern World Bank was created in 1944.
liquid measure of capacity equal to one-fourth of a gallon, early 14c., from Old French quarte "a fourth part" (13c.), from Latin quarta (pars), fem. of quartus "the fourth, fourth part" (related to quattuor "four," from PIE root *kwetwer- "four").
Compare Latin quartarius "fourth part," also the name of a small liquid measure (the fourth part of a sextarius), which was about the same as an English pint.