late 14c., oppressen, "to press unduly upon or against, overburden, weigh down," also figuratively, "overwhelm overpower" (of sickness, grief, etc.); also "burden with cruel, unjust, or unreasonable restraints, treat with injustice or undue severity, keep down by an unjust exercise of power," from Old French opresser "oppress, afflict; torment, smother" (13c.), from Medieval Latin oppressare, frequentative of Latin opprimere "press against, press together, press down;" figuratively "crush, put down, subdue, prosecute relentlessly" (in Late Latin "to rape"), from assimilated form of ob "against" (see ob-) + premere "to press, hold fast, cover, crowd, compress" (from PIE root *per- (4) "to strike"). In Middle English also "to rape." Related: Oppressed; oppressing.
It is the due [external] restraint and not the moderation of rulers that constitutes a state of liberty; as the power to oppress, though never exercised, does a state of slavery. [St. George Tucker, "View of the Constitution of the United States," 1803]
1640s, "unreasonably or unjustly burdensome," from Medieval Latin oppressivus, from oppress-, past participle stem of opprimere "press against, press together, press down;" figuratively "crush, put down, subdue, prosecute relentlessly" (see oppress). Sense of "inclined to oppress, tyrannical" is from 1712; that of "heavy, overwhelming" (of grief, woe, heat, etc.) is by 1712. Related: Oppressively; oppressiveness.
"one who exercises undue severity in the use of power or authority," c. 1400, oppressour, from Old French opresseor, from Latin oppressor "a crusher, a destroyer," from opprimere (see oppress (v.)). In Middle English also "a criminal; a rapist" (mid-15c.).
"weighted or pressed down," physically or mentally, late 14c., past-participle adjective from oppress.
Ovirredyn with a carte-wheel, The chyld oppressyd lay in the streete deed. [John Lydgate "Lives of Ss. Edmund & Fremund and the Extra Miracles of St. Edmund," mid-15c.]
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to strike," an extended sense from root *per- (1) "forward, through."
It forms all or part of: compress; depress; espresso; express; impress (v.1) "have a strong effect on the mind or heart;" imprimatur; imprint; oppress; oppression; pregnant (adj.2) "convincing, weighty, pithy;" press (v.1) "push against;" pressure; print; repress; reprimand; suppress.
c. 1200, transitive, "to make worried or depressed; to make angry, enrage;" also "to be physically painful, cause discomfort;" c. 1300 as "cause grief to, disappoint, be a cause of sorrow;" also "injure, harass, oppress," from tonic stem of Old French grever "afflict, burden, oppress," from Latin gravare "make heavy; cause grief," from gravis "weighty" (from PIE root *gwere- (1) "heavy"). Intransitive sense of "be sorry, lament" is from c. 1400. Related: Grieved; grieving.
Old English crudan "to press, crush." Cognate with Middle Dutch cruden, Dutch kruijen "to press, push," Middle High German kroten "to press, oppress," Norwegian kryda "to crowd." Related: Crowded; crowding.
1520s, "to unload, disburden," a literal sense now obsolete; 1570s as "relieve (of a charge, blame, etc.) resting on one; clear of something that lies upon the character as an imputation," from Latin exoneratus, past participle of exonerare "remove a burden, discharge, unload," from ex "out, out of, off" (see ex-) + onerare "to unload; overload, oppress," from onus (genitive oneris) "burden" (see onus). Related: Exonerated; exonerating.
"intimidate, daunt the fear or courage of," c. 1600, probably [OED] from Old Norse kuga "oppress," which is of unknown origin but perhaps has something to do with the Scandinavian forms of cow (n.) on the notion of "easily herded." Related: Cowed; cowing.