c. 1500, "reflection of light, image produced by reflection," from a verb reflex meaning "refract, deflect" (late 14c.; compare reflect), from Late Latin reflexus "a bending back," noun use of past participle of reflectere "to bend back, bend backwards, turn away," from re- "back" (see re-) + flectere "to bend" (see flexible). Also as an adjective (1640s), "thrown or turned backward," also of thoughts or the mind. Meaning "involuntary nerve stimulation" is recorded by 1877, short for reflex action (1833) "simple, involuntary action of the nervous system."
1580s, "reflective, capable of bending or turning back," from Medieval Latin reflexivus, from Late Latin reflexus (see reflect). Meaning "of the nature of a reflex" is from 1839 (implied in reflexively). Grammatical sense, in reference to verbs especially, "turning the action back upon the subject," is by 1740. Related: Reflexiveness; reflexivity.