Old English stæf (plural stafas), "walking stick, strong pole used for carrying, rod used as a weapon, pastoral staff," probably originally *stæb, from Proto-Germanic *stab- (source also of Old Saxon staf, Old Norse stafr, Danish stav, Old Frisian stef, Middle Low German and Middle Dutch staf, Old High German stab, German Stab, Gothic *stafs "element;" Middle Dutch stapel "pillar, foundation").
This is reconstructed to be from PIE root *stebh- "post, stem, to support, place firmly on, fasten" (source also of Old Lithuanian stabas "idol," Lithuanian stiebas "staff, pillar;" Old Church Slavonic stoboru "pillar;" Sanskrit stabhnati "supports;" Greek stephein "to tie around, encircle, wreathe," staphyle "grapevine, bunch of grapes;" Old English stapol "post, pillar").
As "pole from which a flag is flown," 1610s. In musical notation from 1660s. Sense of "group of military officers that assists a commander" is attested from 1702, apparently from German, from the notion of the baton that is a badge of office or authority (a sense attested in English from 1530s); hence staff officer (1702), staff-sergeant (1811). The meaning "group of employees (as at an office or hospital)" is attested by 1837.
Staff of life "bread" is from the Biblical phrase break the staff of bread meaning "cut off the supply of food" (Leviticus xxvi.26), translating Hebrew matteh lekhem.
The Old English word, in plural, was the common one used for "letter of the alphabet, character," hence "writing, literature," and many compounds having to do with writing, such as stæfcræft "grammar," stæfcræftig "lettered," stæflic "literary," stæfleahtor "grammatical error," with leahtor "vice, sin, offense."
"to provide with a staff of assistants," 1859, from staff (n.). Related: Staffed; staffing.
mid-13c., "a post in government or administration, an employment to which certain duties are attached, secular position of authority or responsibility," from Anglo-French and Old French ofice "place or function; divine service" (12c. in Old French) and directly from Latin officium "a service, kindness, favor; an obligatory service, official duty, function, business; ceremonial observance" (in Medieval Latin, "church service").
The Latin word was contracted from opificium, literally "work-doing," from ops (genitive opis) "power, might, abundance, means" (related to opus "work," from PIE root *op- "to work, produce in abundance") + combining form of facere "to make, to do" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put").
Of ecclesiastical positions from late 14c. From c. 1300 as "official employment" in general, also "ecclesiastical service or mass; the prescribed order and form of church services." Meaning "building or room for conducting business" is from late 14c. Meaning "a government or civic department" is from mid-15c. From 1727 as "a privy."
Office hours "hours of work in an office" is attested from 1841. Office furniture, the type used or commonly found in offices, is by 1839. The political office-holder is by 1818. Office-party, one held for the members of a staff, is by 1950. Middle English had office of life "state of being alive" (late 14c.), translating Latin vite officio.
1650s, "public department in charge of letter-carrying," from post (n.3) + office. Meaning "building where postal business is carried on, office or place where letters are received for transmission," is from 1650s. In slang or euphemistic sense of "a sexual game" it refers to an actual parlor game first attested early 1850s in which pretend "letters" were paid for by kisses.
1786, "office in a theater in which tickets are sold," from box (n.1) + office (n.). Box is attested from late 14c. in the specialized sense of "money box," especially one in which money is kept for some particular purpose; this was extended to "funds, money" before c. 1400. Box office in the figurative sense of "financial element of a performance" is recorded by 1904.
1540s, "a staff used as a weapon," from French bâton "stick, walking stick, staff, club, wand," from Old French baston (12c.) "stick, staff, rod," from Late Latin bastum "stout staff," which probably is of Gaulish origin or else from Greek *baston "support," from bastazein "to lift up, raise, carry." The meaning "staff carried as a symbol of office" is from 1580s; the musical sense of "conductor's wand" is by 1823, from French. Often Englished 17c.-18c. as batoon.
"staff of office peculiar to royalty or independent sovereignty," c. 1300, ceptre, from Old French ceptre, sceptre (12c.) and directly from Latin sceptrum "royal staff," from Greek skēptron "staff to lean on," in a Persian and Asian context, "royal scepter," in transferred use, "royalty," from root of skeptein "'to support oneself, lean; pretend something, use as a pretention." Beekes has this from a root *skap- (perhaps non-Indo-European) and compares Latin scapus "shaft, stalk," Albanian shkop "stick, scepter," Old High German skaft, Old Norse skapt, Old English sceaft "shaft, spear, lance" (see shaft (n.1)).
The verb meaning "to furnish with a scepter" is from 1520s; hence "invest with royal authority." Related: Sceptred.
"staff-writer," 1949, in journalism, from staff-writer (1878); from staff (n.) in the "group of employees" sense.