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.
"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."
Middle English neue, from Old English neowe, niowe, earlier niwe "made or established for the first time, fresh, recently made or grown; novel, unheard-of, different from the old; untried, inexperienced, unused," from Proto-Germanic *neuja- (source also of Old Saxon niuwi, Old Frisian nie, Middle Dutch nieuwe, Dutch nieuw, Old High German niuwl, German neu, Danish and Swedish ny, Gothic niujis "new").
This is from PIE *newo- "new" (source also of Sanskrit navah, Persian nau, Hittite newash, Greek neos, Lithuanian naujas, Old Church Slavonic novu, Russian novyi, Latin novus, Old Irish nue, Welsh newydd "new").
From mid-14c. as "novel, modern" (Gower, 1393, has go the new foot "dance the latest style"). In the names of cities and countries named for some other place, c. 1500. Meaning "not habituated, unfamiliar, unaccustomed," 1590s. Of the moon from late Old English. The adverb, "newly, for the first time," is Old English niwe, from the adjective. As a noun, "that which is new," also in Old English. There was a verb form in Old English (niwian, neowian) and Middle English (neuen) "make, invent, create; bring forth, produce, bear fruit; begin or resume (an activity); resupply; substitute," but it seems to have fallen from use.
New Testament is from late 14c. New math in reference to a system of teaching mathematics based on investigation and discovery is from 1958. New World (adj.) to designate phenomena of the Western Hemisphere first attested 1823, in Lord Byron; the noun phrase is recorded from 1550s. New Deal in the FDR sense is attested by 1932. New school in reference to the more advanced or liberal faction of something is from 1806. New Left (1960) was a coinage of U.S. political sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916-1962). New light in reference to religions is from 1640s. New frontier, in U.S. politics, "reform and social betterment," is from 1934 (Henry Wallace) but associated with John F. Kennedy's use of it in 1960.
U.S. state based on the former Nuevo México province of New Spain (later Mexico); the name traces to 1560s and is a reference to the valley of Mexico, around modern Mexico City (see Mexico). Annexed to the U.S. as a territory in 1848; admitted as a state in 1912.
1902, Australia and New Zealand slang, of unknown origin.
shortening of communist (n.), 1939. Australia/New Zealand variant Commo is attested from 1941.