c. 1300, majour, "greater, more important or effective, leading, principal," from Latin maior (earlier *magios), irregular comparative of magnus "large, great" (from PIE root *meg- "great"). From 1590s as "greater in quantity, number, or extent." Used in music (of modes, scales, or chords) since 1690s, on notion of an interval a half-tone "greater" than the minor; of modern modes, "characterized by the use of major tonality throughout," by 1811. Major league, in baseball, is attested by 1892.
military rank above captain and below lieutenant colonel, 1640s, from French major, short for sergent-major, originally a higher rank than at present, from Medieval Latin major "chief officer, magnate, superior person," from Latin maior "an elder, adult," noun use of the adjective (see major (adj.)).
His chief duties consist in superintending the exercises of his regiment or battalion, and in putting in execution the commands of his superior officer. His ordinary position in the line is behind the left wing. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
The musical sense is attested by 1797.
of a college or university student, "focus (one's) studies," 1910, American English, from major (n.) in sense of "subject of specialization" (by 1890). Related: Majored; majoring. Earlier as a verb, in Scottish, "to prance about, or walk backwards and forwards with a military air and step" [Jamieson, 1825] a sense derived from the military major.
c. 1200, forme, fourme, "semblance, image, likeness," from Old French forme, fourme, "physical form, appearance; pleasing looks; shape, image; way, manner" (12c.), from Latin forma "form, contour, figure, shape; appearance, looks; a fine form, beauty; an outline, a model, pattern, design; sort, kind condition," a word of unknown origin. One theory holds that it is from or cognate with Greek morphe "form, beauty, outward appearance" (see Morpheus) via Etruscan [Klein].
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.
c. 1600, "group of students," in U.S. especially "number of pupils in a school or college of the same grade," from French classe (14c.), from Latin classis "a class, a division; army, fleet," especially "any one of the six orders into which Servius Tullius divided the Roman people for the purpose of taxation;" traditionally originally "the people of Rome under arms" (a sense attested in English from 1650s), and thus akin to calare "to call (to arms)," from PIE root *kele- (2) "to shout." In early use in English also in Latin form classis.
Meaning "an order or rank of persons, a number of persons having certain characteristics in common" is from 1660s. School and university sense of "course, lecture" (1650s) is from the notion of a form or lecture reserved to scholars who had attained a certain level. Natural history sense "group of related plants or animals" is from 1753. Meaning "high quality" is from 1874. Meaning "a division of society according to status" (with upper, lower, etc.) is from 1763. Class-consciousness (1903) is from German Klassenbewusst.
The fault, the evil, in a class society is when privilege exists without responsibility and duty. The evil of the classless society is that it tends to equalize the responsibility, to atomize it into responsibility of the whole population—and therefore everyone becomes equally irresponsible. [T.S. Eliot, BBC interview with Leslie Paul, 1958]
1705, "to divide into classes, place in ranks or divisions," from class (n.) or French classer. Sense of "to place into a class" is from 1776. Related: Classed; classing.
c. 1300, formen, fourmen, "create, give life to, give shape or structure to; make, build, construct, devise," from Old French fourmer "formulate, express; draft, create, shape, mold" (12c.) and directly from Latin formare "to shape, fashion, build," also figurative, from forma "form, contour, figure, shape" (see form (n.)). From late 14c. as "go to make up, be a constituent part of;" intransitive sense "take form, come into form" is from 1722. Related: Formed; forming.
word-forming element meaning "-like, -shaped, in the form of," from French -forme and directly from Latin -formis "-like, shaped," from forma "form" (see form (n.)). Properly preceded by an -i-.
"belonging to the class next after the first," 1833, from the noun phrase (1810) indicating the second of a ranked series of classes (originally in a university, later of railroad accommodations, etc.), from second (adj.) + class (n.). The phrase second-class citizen is recorded from 1942 in U.S. history.
The Negro recognizes that he is a second-class citizen and that status is fraught with violent potentialities, particularly today when he is living up to the full responsibilities of citizenship on the field of battle. [Louis E. Martin, "To Be or Not to Be a Liberal," in The Crisis, September 1942]