early 15c., pulverisen, "reduce to powder or dust," from Late Latin pulverizare "reduce to powder or dust," from Latin pulvis (genitive pulveris) "dust, powder," which perhaps is related to Latin pollen "mill dust; fine flour" (and thus the other words under pollen), but de Vaan and others find that "the semantic connection of 'dust' with 'chaff' is uncompelling" because flour and chaff "are each other's opposite when processing grain. Of course, via a primary meaning 'to grind' or 'fine dust', they may be connected." Figurative sense of "break down, demolish" is by 1630s. Related: Pulverized; pulverizing; pulverizable.
"the act of breaking or reducing to dust or powder," 1650s, noun of action from pulverize, or else from French pulvérisation, from pulveriser. Figurative sense of "utter demolition" is by 1873. Slightly earlier, but now obsolete, was pulveration (1620s).
"fine, minute, loose, uncompacted particles," c. 1300, poudre, "ash, cinders; dust of the earth;" early 14c. of any pulverized substance; from Old French poudre "dust, powder; ashes; powdered substance" (13c.), earlier pouldre (11c.), from Latin pulverem (nominative pulvis) "dust, powder" (source also of Spanish polvo, Italian polve; see pulverize).
The insertion of the unetymological -d- was common in French (compare meddle, tender (adj.), remainder). German has it as a doublet; Puder via French and Pulver from Latin. From mid-14c. specifically as "medicinal powder;" specialized sense of "gunpowder" is from late 14c. In the sense "powdered cosmetic," it is recorded from 1570s.
Powder keg "small barrel for holding gunpowder" is by 1820; the figurative sense ("something likely to explode easily") is by 1895. Powder room, euphemistic for "women's lavatory," is attested from 1936. Earlier it meant "place where gunpowder is stored on a warship" (1620s). Powder monkey "boy employed on ships to carry powder from the magazines to the guns" is from 1680s. Powder blue (1650s) was smalt used in laundering; as a color name from 1894.
The phrase take a powder "scram, vanish," is from 1920; it was a common phrase as a doctor's instruction, so perhaps the notion is of taking a laxative medicine or a sleeping powder, with the result that one has to leave in a hurry (or, on another guess, from a magician's magical powder, which makes things disappear).
Avis dropped an exhausted little heap onto her aunt's bed. She put her hand over her heart and said piteously, "Oh, Aunt Joyce, I mustn't ever do that again. My heart's going awful fast. I shall have to take a powder. Wasn't it fun though-" Avis' dark eyes flashed. [from "The Evolution of Avis" in The Connecticut School Journal, Jan. 9, 1902]
When the wife of your breast has confessed she has drest
On just triple the sum you allowed her,
And has run up long bills for her frocks and her frills—
Take a powder, my friend, take a powder.
[from "The Panacaea," in Punch, Dec. 14, 1901]
Powder in the wind (c. 1300, meaning powdered spices) was a Middle English image of something highly valued but flawed in some way that renders it impermanent or doomed to loss (of virtues without humility, etc.).
Middle English pounen, "pulverize (a herb or an ingredient of a medicine or perfume), grind (grain)," from Old English punian "crush by beating, pulverize, beat, bruise," from West Germanic *puno- (source also of Low German pun, Dutch puin "fragments"). With unetymological -d- from 16c. Meaning "to beat, strike, punch (someone)" is from early 14c. Sense of "beat or thrash as with the fists or a heavy instrument" is by 1790. Related: Pounded; pounding.
"to discredit a candidate for some position by savaging his or her career and beliefs," 1987, from name of U.S. jurist Robert H. Bork (1927-2012), whose Supreme Court nomination in 1987 was rejected after an intense counter-campaign. Not the first name to be so used:
[John Quincy Adams's] printed assault upon Jonathan Russell—who had been so ill-advised as to cast doubts upon the patriotism of Adams's conduct at Ghent—was so deadly that for many years afterwards the vocabulary of America was increased, though not enriched, by the transitive verb "to Jonathan-Russell," meaning to pulverize an opponent. [George Dangerfield, "The Era of Good Feeling," 1953]