mid-15c., Achademie, "the classical Academy," properly the name of the public garden where Plato taught his school, from Old French (Modern French Académie) and directly from Latin Academia, from Greek Akadēmeia "The Academy; the grove of Akadēmos," a legendary Athenian of the Trojan War tales (his name, Latinized as Academus, apparently means "of a silent district"), original estate-holder of the site.
The A[cademy], the Garden, the Lyceum, the Porch, the Tub, are names used for the five chief schools of Greek philosophy, their founders, adherents, & doctrines: the A., Plato, the Platonists & Platonism; the Garden, Epicurus, the Epicureans, & Epicureanism; the Lyceum, Aristotle, the Aristotelians, & Aristotelianism; the Porch, Zeno, the Stoics, & Stoicism; the Tub, Antisthenes, the Cynics, & Cynicism. [Fowler]
Compare lyceum. By 1540s the word in English was being used for any school or training place for arts and sciences or higher learning. "In the 18th century it was frequently adopted by schools run by dissenters, and the name is often found attached to the public schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland" [Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1941]; hence, in the U.S., a school ranking between an elementary school and a university. "In England the word has been abused, and is now in discredit in this sense" [OED]. By 1560s it was used for "a place of training" in any sense (riding schools, army colleges).
The word also was used of associations of adepts for the cultivation and promotion of some science or art, whether founded by governments, royalty, or private individuals. Hence Academy award (1939), so called for their distributor, the U.S.-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (founded 1927).
"The Academy," as a place where arts and sciences were taught, 1580s, from phrase groves of Academe (translating Horace's silvas Academi), the name of the public gymnasium and gardens near Athens where Plato taught, from Greek he Akademeia (see academy).
Latin academia also was used in reference to Plato's doctrines. Academe in a modern, general sense of "the world of universities and scholarship" is attested in English from 1849. (academia in the sense of "academic community" is from 1956.)
Academe properly means Academus (a Greek hero); & its use as a poetic variant for academy, though sanctioned by Shakespeare, Tennyson & Lowell, is a mistake; the grove of A., however, (Milton) means rightly The Academy. [Fowler]
From 1610s in English in the sense "belonging to the classical Academy in Athens." Meaning "theoretical, not practical, not leading to a decision" (such as university debates or classroom legal exercises) is from 1886. In the arts, "rigidly conforming to academic style," 1889. Academic freedom "liberty of a teacher to state opinions openly without fear of retribution," is attested from 1901. Related: Academical; academically; academicalism (1874); Johnson has academial.
As a noun, "student in college or university life," 1580s (Latin academicus, Greek akademikoi meant "Academic philosopher"). Also academian (1590s), while academician (1746) mostly was confined to members of the old societies for the promotion of sciences and arts.
1796, from Italian Accademia della Crusca, literally "Academy of the Chaff," "the name of an Academy established at Florence in 1582, mainly with the object of sifting and purifying the Italian language; whence its name, and its emblem, a sieve" [OED]. From della "of the" (from Latin de "of" + illa "that") + crusca "bran." Related: Della-Cruscan.
c. 1600, "alchemy," from chemist + -ry; also see chemical (adj.). The meaning "natural physical process" is from 1640s; the sense of "scientific study of the composition of material things and the changes they undergo" is by 1788. Chemistry in the European mind disengaged itself from alchemy in the mid-1600s; The Academy del Cimento was established in Italy in 1657, the Royal Society in London in 1660, and the Academy of Sciences in Paris in 1666.
The figurative sense of "instinctual attraction or affinity" is attested slightly earlier, from the alchemical sense.
also pleb, "member of the lowest class at a U.S. military academy," 1833, probably a shortened form of plebeian "one of the lower class," which in Latin had also the short form plebs or plebes.