Etymology
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long-distance (adj.)

1878, in reference to telephoning (1876 of railway fares and traffic), from long (adj.) + distance (n.).

Lieut. G.R.R. Savage, R.E., writing from Roorkee, North-West Provinces, India, sends us an account of some interesting experiments he has been making on long-distance telephones. He constructed telephones expressly for long-distance work, and succeeded in getting a bugle-call heard distinctly over 400 miles of Government telegraph line .... ["Nature," May 16, 1878]
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distance (n.)

c. 1300, distaunce, "a dispute or controversy, civil strife, rebellion;" early 14c., "disagreement, discord, strife;" from Old French destance "discord, quarrel" (13c.), with later senses directly from Latin distantia "a standing apart," from distantem (nominative distans) "standing apart, separate, distant," present participle of distare "stand apart," from dis- "apart, off" (see dis-) + stare "to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm."

Meaning "remoteness of space, extent of space between two objects or places" is from late 14c. Also "an interval of time" (late 14c., originally distaunce of times). Meaning "remote part of a field of vision" is by 1813. The figurative sense of "aloofness, remoteness in personal intercourse" (1590s) is the same as in stand-offish.

At a distance "far away" is from 1650s. To keep (one's) distance was originally figurative (c. 1600). Phrase go the distance (1930s) seems to be originally from the prize ring, where the word meant "scheduled length of a bout." But it also was a term in 19c. horse-racing heats, where distance meant "the space behind the winning horse in a race that other competing horses must be inside to avoid being disqualified for subsequent heats."

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distance (v.)

1570s "place at a distance" (transitive); 1640s, "leave at a distance by superior speed" (intransitive), from distance (n.). Sense of "to make to appear distant" is from 1690s. Specific sense of "leave behind in a (horse) race" is from 1670s (see the noun). The meaning "to keep at a distance" is by 1786, marked as "? Obs." in OED, but that was before 2020. Related: Distanced; distancing.

Distancing as a verbal noun is from 1670s; social distancing was used in sociology by 1960s in reference both to physical space and status.

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runner (n.)

c. 1300, "messenger on foot," agent noun from run (v.). The meaning "one who runs, a racer" is from early 14c.

With many technical senses. The meaning "smuggler, one who risks or evades dangers, impediments, or legal restrictions" is by 1721; the sense of "police officer" is from 1771. The botanical meaning "rooting stem of a plant" is from 1660s. The sense of "embroidered cloth for a table" is from 1888. In baseball, "a base-runner," by 1845.

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long (adj.)

Old English lang "having a great linear extent, that extends considerably from end to end; tall; lasting," from Proto-Germanic *langa- (source also of Old Frisian and Old Saxon lang, Old High German and German lang, Old Norse langr, Middle Dutch lanc, Dutch lang, Gothic laggs "long").

The Germanic words perhaps are from PIE *dlonghos- (source also of Latin longus "long, extended; further; of long duration; distant, remote," Old Persian darga-, Persian dirang, Sanskrit dirghah "long"), from root *del- (1) "long" (source also of Greek dolikhos "long," endelekhes "perpetual"). Latin longus (source of prolong, elongate, longitude, etc.) thus is probably cognate with, but not the source of, the Germanic words. The word illustrates the Old English tendency for short "a" to become short "o" before -n- (also retained in bond/band and West Midlands dialectal lond from land and hond from hand).

Also in Old English in reference to time, "drawn out in duration," with overtones of "serious." The old sense of "tall" now appears to be dialectal only, or obsolete. For long "during a long time" is from c. 1300. To be long on something, "have a lot" of it, is from 1900, American English slang. A long vowel (c. 1000) originally was pronounced for an extended time. Mathematical long division is from 1808. Sporting long ball is from 1744, originally in cricket. Long jump as a sporting event is attested from 1864. A long face, one drawn downward in expression of sadness or solemnity, is from 1786. Long in the tooth (1841 of persons) is from horses showing age by recession of gums (but not in this sense until 1870). Long knives, name Native Americans gave to white settlers (originally in Virginia/Kentucky) is from 1774, perhaps a reference to their swords. Long time no see, supposedly imitative of American Indian speech, is first recorded 1919 as Chinese English.

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-long 

adverbial suffix indicating direction, from Old Norse -langr, from langr "long" (adj.); see long (adj.). Displaced native -ling.

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long (adv.)

Old English lange, longe "for a length of time, a long time; far, to a great extent in space," from long (adj.). Old English also had langlice (adv.) "for a long time, long, at length." Longly (adv.) is rarely used. No longer "not as formerly" is from c. 1300; to be not long for this world "soon to die" is from 1714.

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long (v.)

Middle English longen, from Old English langian "to yearn after, grieve for," literally "to grow long, lengthen," from Proto-Germanic *langojan, which probably is connected with the root of long (adj.). Cognate with Old Norse langa, Old Saxon langon, Middle Dutch langhen, Old High German langen "to long," German verlangen "to desire." Related: Longed; longing.

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long (n.)

in long and short of it "the sum of the matter in a few words," c. 1500, from long (adj.).

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front-runner (n.)

also frontrunner, of political candidates, 1908, American English, a metaphor from horse racing (where it is used by 1901 of a horse that runs best while in the lead).

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