c. 1200, materie, "the subject of a mental act or a course of thought, speech, or expression," from Anglo-French matere, Old French matere "subject, theme, topic; substance, content; character, education" (12c., Modern French matière) and directly from Latin materia "substance from which something is made," also "hard inner wood of a tree." According to de Vaan and Watkins, this is from mater "origin, source, mother" (see mother (n.1)). The sense developed and expanded in Latin in philosophy by influence of Greek hylē (see hylo-) "wood, firewood," in a general sense "material," used by Aristotle for "matter" in the philosophical sense.
The Latin word also is the source of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian materia, Dutch, German, and Danish materie, vernacular Spanish madera, Portuguese madeira "wood" (compare Madeira). The Middle English word also sometimes was used specifically as "piece of wood."
From c. 1200 as "a subject of a literary work, content of what is written, main theme;" sense of "narrative, tale, story" is from c. 1300. Meaning "physical substance generally" is from mid-14c.; that of "substance of which some specific object is or may be composed" is attested from late 14c. Meaning "piece of business, affair, activity, situation; subject of debate or controversy, question under discussion" is from late 14c. In law, "something which is to be tried or proved," 1530s.
Matter of course "something expected" attested from 1739 (adjectival phrase matter-of-course "proceeding as a natural consequence" is by 1840). For that matter "as far as that goes, as far as that is concerned" is attested from 1670s. What is the matter "what concerns (someone), what is the cause of the difficulty" is attested from mid-15c., from matter in the sense of "circumstance or condition as affecting persons and things." To make no matter to "be no difference to" also is mid-15c., with matter in the meaning "importance, consequence."
"consisting of or pertaining to facts, not fanciful or ideal," 1712, from the noun phrase matter of fact "reality as distinguished from what is fanciful or hypothetical, truth attested by direct observation or authentic testimony," which is originally a legal term (1570s, translating Latin res facti), "that which is fact or alleged fact; that portion of an inquiry concerned with the truth or falsehood of alleged facts, subject of discussion belonging to the realm of fact" (as distinguished from matter of inference, opinion, law, etc.). See matter (n.) + fact.
The meaning "prosaic, unimaginative, adhering to facts" is from 1787. Related: Matter-of-factly; matter-of-factness. German Tatsache is said to be a loan-translation of the English word.
In law, that which is fact or alleged as fact; in contradistinction to matter of law, which consists in the resulting relations, rights, and obligations which the law establishes in view of given facts. Thus, the questions whether a man executed a contract, and whether he was intoxicated at the time, relate to matters of fact; whether, if so, he is bound by the contract, and what the instrument means, are matters of law. [Century Dictionary]
1520s, "that which is the matter of something, material substance," from Modern Latin materialitas, from materialis "of or belonging to matter," from Latin materia "matter, stuff" (see matter (n.)). From 1560s as "state or quality of being material;" 1640s as "quality of being important to matters at hand, essentiality."
mid-14c., "real, ordinary; earthly, drawn from the material world" (contrasted with spiritual, mental, supernatural), a term in scholastic philosophy and theology, from Old French material, materiel (14c.) and directly from Late Latin materialis (adj.) "of or belonging to matter," from Latin materia "matter, stuff, wood, timber" (see matter (n.)).
From late 14c. as "made of matter, having material existence; material, physical, substantial." From late 15c. as "important, relevant, necessary, pertaining to the matter or subject;" in the law of evidence, "of legal significance to the cause" (1580s).
word-forming element meaning "wood, forest," also "matter," from Greek hylos "a wood, a forest, woodland; wood, firewood, timber; stuff, material," used by Aristotle for "matter" in the philosophical sense; a word of unknown origin.