early 13c., "of or pertaining to the head," from Old French capital, from Latin capitalis "of the head," hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive capitis) "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head"). The meaning "main, principal, chief, dominant, first in importance" is from early 15c. in English. The modern informal sense of "excellent, first-rate" is by 1754 (as an exclamation of approval, OED's first example is 1875), perhaps from earlier use of the word in reference to ships, "first-rate, powerful enough to be in the line of battle," attested from 1650s, fallen into disuse after 1918. Related: Capitally.
A capital letter "upper-case latter," of larger face and differing more or less in form (late 14c.) is so called because it stands at the "head" of a sentence or word. Capital gain is recorded from 1921. Capital goods is recorded from 1899.
A capital crime or offense (1520s) is one that involves the penalty of death and thus affects the life or "head" (capital had a sense of "deadly, mortal" from late 14c. in English, as it did earlier in Latin). The felt connection between "head" and "life, mortality" also existed in Old English: as in heafodgilt "deadly sin, capital offense," heafdes þolian "to forfeit life." Capital punishment was in Blackstone (1765) and classical Latin capitis poena.
"native or citizen of Russia," 1530s, from Medieval Latin Russianus, from Russia (see Russia). Slang or colloquial or slang Russki, Ruski "Russian" (by 1858) is from Russian Russkiy. Russian roulette attested from 1937. Russian dressing for salads is from 1915. The expression scratch a Russian, find a Tatar, frequent from 1842 and conventional wisdom on the topic, might be from a French original.
"head of a column or pillar," late 13c., from Anglo-French capitel, Old French chapitel (Modern French chapiteau), or directly from Latin capitellum "head of a column or pillar," literally "little head," diminutive of caput "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head").
1610s, "a person's wealth," from Medieval Latin capitale "stock, property," noun use of neuter of Latin capitalis "capital, chief, first" (see capital (adj.)). From 1640s as "the wealth employed in carrying on a particular business," then, in a broader sense in political economy, "that part of the produce of industry which is available for further production" (1793).
[The term capital] made its first appearance in medieval Latin as an adjective capitalis (from caput, head) modifying the word pars, to designate the principal sum of a money loan. The principal part of a loan was contrasted with the "usury"—later called interest—the payment made to the lender in addition to the return of the sum lent. This usage, unknown to classical Latin, had become common by the thirteenth century and possibly had begun as early as 1100 A.D., in the first chartered towns of Europe. [Frank A. Fetter, "Reformulation of the Concepts of Capital and Income in Economics and Accounting," 1937, in "Capital, Interest, & Rent," 1977]
Also see cattle, and compare sense development of fee, and pecuniary. Middle English had chief money "principal fund" (mid-14c.). The noun use of the adjective in classical Latin meant "a capital crime."
late 14c.; see capital (adj.). So called because it is at the "head" of a sentence or word.
Russian capital, named for the Moskva River, the name of which is of unknown origin. Moscow mule vodka cocktail is attested from 1950.
Hungarian capital, formed 1872 from merger of two cities on opposite shores of the Danube, Buda (probably from a word originally meaning "water") + Pest, a Hungarian word meaning "furnace, oven, cove," also in Slavic (compare Russian pech'). Ofen, literally "oven," was the old German name for the place.
"office or official position of a secretary" in the administrative and executive sense, 1811, from French secrétariat, from Medieval Latin secretariatus "the office of a secretary," from secretarius "clerk, notary, confidential officer, confidant" (see secretary). Meaning "division of the Central Committee of the USSR" (with capital S-) is from 1926, from Russian sekretariat.
1877, "a Russian commune or village," also (with capital M-) the name of a late 20c. space station, Russian, literally "peace, world," also "village, community," from Old Church Slavonic miru "peace," from Proto-Slavic *miru "commune, joy, peace" ("possibly borrowed from Iranian" [Watkins]), from PIE root *mei- (4) "to bind, tie" (see mitre). Old Church Slavonic miru was "used in Christian terminology as a collective 'community of peace' " [Buck], translating Greek kosmos. Hence, "the known world, mankind."