Middle English le, leoh, from Old English hleo "shelter, cover, defense, protection," from Proto-Germanic *khlewaz (source also of Old Norse hle, Danish læ, Old Saxon hleo, Dutch lij "lee, shelter"). The original sense is uncertain; it might have been "warm" (compare German lau "tepid," Old Norse hly "shelter, warmth"), and Watkins traces it to a PIE *kle-wo-, a suffixed variant form of the root *kele- (1) "warm."
Nautical sense "that part of the hemisphere to which the wind is directed" (c. 1400) is of Scandinavian origin, from the notion of the side of the ship opposite that which receives the wind as the sheltered side. As an adjective, 1510s, from the noun. The lee shore is that toward which the wind blows. Middle English also had lewth "warmth, shelter," Old English hleowþ, with Proto-Germanic abstract noun suffix *-itho (see -th (2)). Also compare lukewarm.
"sudden pitch to one side," 1784, from earlier lee-larches (1765), a nautical term for "the sudden roll which a ship makes to lee-ward in a high sea, when a large wave strikes her, and bears her weather-side violently up, which depresses the other in proportion" ["Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences," London 1765]. This is perhaps from French lacher "to let go," from Latin laxus (see lax).
When a Ship is brought by the Lee, it is commonly occaſsioned by a large Sea, and by the Neglect of the Helm's-man. When the Wind is two or three Points on the Quarter, the Ship taking a Lurch, brings the Wind on the other Side, and lays the Sails all dead to the Maſt; as the Yards are braced up, ſhe then having no Way, and the Helm being of no Service, I would therefore brace about the Head ſails ſharp the other Way .... [John Hamilton Moore, Practical Navigator, 8th ed., 1784]
1965, apparently coined by U.K. politician Iain Macleod (1913-1970), from stag(nation) + (in)flation.
Attacking the Government's economic policy last night in the House of Commons, Mr. Iain Macleod (West Enfield - Con.) the Opposition spokesman on Treasury and economic affairs, described the present situation in Britain as "stagflation" — stagnation and inflation together. [Glasgow Herald, Nov. 18, 1965]