"depict or represent pictorially," late 15c. in the literal sense; 1738 in the mental sense of "form an image of in the mind;" from picture (n.). Related: Pictured; picturing.
early 15c., pictur, pictoure, pittour, pectur, "the process or art of drawing or painting," a sense now obsolete; also "a visual or graphic representation of a person, scene, object, etc.," from Latin pictura "painting," from pictus, past participle of pingere "to make pictures, to paint, to embroider," (see paint (v.)).
Picture window is from 1938. Picture post-card is recorded from 1899. Picture-book, "book illustrated with pictures or consisting mostly of pictures," especially one for children, is by 1847. Picture-frame "more or less ornamental border put around a picture to protect it" is from 1660s.
The phrase every picture tells a story is attested from 1900, in advertisements for an illustrated life of Christ. To be in (or out of) the picture in the figurative sense dates to 1900.
The expression a picture is worth a thousand words, attested from 1918, probably originated in the publication trade (the notion that a picture was worth 1,000 words is in printers' publications by 1911). The phrase was used in the form worth a million words by American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936) in an editorial much-read c. 1916 titled "What is a Good Newspaper" in the "New York Evening Journal." In part it read: "After news and humor come good pictures. In this day of hurry we learn through the eye, and one picture may be worth a million words."
The phrase seems to have emerged into general use via the medium of advertising (which scaled down the number and also gave the expression its spurious origin story as "a Japanese proverb" or some such thing, by 1919). Earlier various acts or deeds (and in one case "the arrow") were said to be worth a thousand words.
Middle English sheuen, from Old English sceawian "to look at, see, gaze, behold, observe; inspect, examine; look for, choose," from Proto-Germanic *skauwojanan (source also of Old Saxon skauwon "to look at," Old Frisian skawia, Dutch schouwen, Old High German scouwon "to look at"), from Proto-Germanic root *skau- "behold, look at," from PIE *skou-, variant of root *keu- "to see, observe, perceive."
The causal meaning "let be seen; put in sight, make known" evolved c. 1200 for unknown reasons, seems to be unique to English (German schauen still means "look at"), and in a century displaced the older meaning. The sense of "explain, make clear" is from c. 1300, as the intransitive sense of "be seen, appear."
The spelling shew, popular 18c. and surviving into early 19c., represents an obsolete pronunciation (rhymes with view). The horse-racing sense of "finish third or in the top three" is by 1903, perhaps from an earlier sense in card-playing.
c. 1300, sceu, schewe, "act of exhibiting to view," from show (v.).
The meaning "an elaborately prepared display or spectacle to entertain a crowd" is recorded by 1560s. That of "an exhibition of strange objects, trivial performances, etc." is by 1760, hence "any kind of public display or gathering" (by 1830). The sense of "entertainment program on radio" is by 1932, later of television.
The sense of "appearance put on with intention to deceive" is recorded from 1520s. That of "ostentatious display" is from 1713 (showy is from 1712). The meaning "third place in a horse race" is from 1925, American English (see the verb). In military slang, "battle," by 1892 (Kipling).
Show of hands "raising of hands as an indication of the sense of a meeting, etc." is attested from 1789; Phrase for show "for appearance's sake" is from c. 1700. Show business is attested from 1850; the short form show biz turns up in Billboard magazine by 1942. The actor's creed the show must go on (scil. despite difficulties or calamities) is attested from 1890. Show-stopper "act that wins so much applause as to pause the show" is by 1926; show trial for one likely prejudiced and pre-judged, but done nonetheless with great publicity, is attested by 1937.
1776, "a display," from the verbal phrase, attested by 1793 as "make a conspicuous and obvious display;" see show (v.) + off (adv.). From 1801 as "a deliberate and ostentatious display;" in reference to the person who makes such a display, attested from 1924. The noun showing-off "ostentatious display" is from 1874.
"peep show contained in a box," 1680s, so called "in imitation of the foreign way of pronouncing rare show" [Johnson]. "Johnson's statement is prob. correct; the early exhibitors of peep-shows appear to have been usually Savoyards, from whom the form was no doubt adopted" [OED]. Compare German raritäten-kabinet "cabinet of curiosities or rarities." Early peep shows were more innocent than what usually was meant later by that term.