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.
c. 1200, Spainisc, from Spaine "Spain," from Old French Espaigne (see Spaniard) + -ish. Replaced Old English Speonisc. Altered 16c. by influence of Latin. As a noun, "the Spanish language," from late 15c.
For Spanish Main see main. Spanish moss is attested from 1823. Spanish fly, the fabled aphrodisiac (ground-up cantharis blister-beetles), is attested from c. 1600. Spanish-American War was so called in British press speculations early 1898, even before it began in April. For Spanish Inquisition (by c. 1600), see inquisition.
"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.
Spanish capital, of unknown origin; first attested 932 as Majerit. Adjectival form is Madrilenian. Noun meaning "person or thing from Madrid" is Madrileño, Madrileña.
capital of Colombia, founded 1530s, the name is from Chibcha (an indigenous language) Bacata, native name of a settlement of the Muisca people that stood there when the Spanish arrived.
city in California, U.S., formerly the Spanish Pacific capital, named for the bay, which was named 1603 for Spanish colonist and viceroy of New Spain Conde de Monterrey. The Monterrey in Mexico also is named for him.
1590s, "of or pertaining to Cordova," the Spanish city, former capital of Moorish Spain (modern Córdoba); the name is said to be Carthaginian, from Phoenician qorteb "oil press."
As a noun, "fine Spanish leather," 1620s, from Spanish cordovan (modern cordoban), from cordovano (adj.) "of Cordova." This is a later adoption of the word that had come into English earlier as cordwain, cordewane (see cordwain).