mid-14c., "superiority, greatness, distinction" in anything, from Old French excellence, from Latin excellentia "superiority, excellence," from excellentem (nominative excellens) "towering, distinguished, superior," present participle of excellere "surpass, be superior; to rise, be eminent," from ex "out from" (see ex-) + -cellere "rise high, tower," related to celsus "high, lofty, great," from PIE root *kel- (2) "to be prominent; hill." From late 14c. as "mark or trait of superiority, that in which something or someone excels."
also pre-eminence, c. 1200, "surpassing eminence; superiority, distinction; precedence, a place of rank or distinction," from Late Latin praeeminentia "distinction, superiority," from Latin praeeminentem (nominative praeeminens), present participle of praeeminere "transcend, excel," literally "project forward, rise above," from prae "before" (see pre-) + eminere "stand out, project" (see eminent).
"strife; struggle for victory or superiority; an amicable contest for a prize, etc.," 1640s, from contest (v.).
"high rank," c. 1200, from Latin excellentia "superiority, excellence," from excellentem (see excellent); as a title of honor it dates from early 14c.
as a symbol or embodiment of high quality or superiority, 1910 (Ritzian, adj., is attested by 1908), a reference to the luxurious Ritz hotels in New York, London, Paris, etc., commemorating Swiss hotelier César Ritz (1850-1918). To put on the ritz "assume an air of superiority" is recorded from 1926. A verb ritz "to behave haughtily" is recorded from 1911. As an adjective by 1926.