punctuation mark, 1520s as a Latin word, nativized by 1590s, from Latin comma "short phrase or clause of a sentence or line of poetry," from Greek komma "clause in a sentence," also ""stamp, coinage," literally "piece which is cut off," from koptein "to strike, smite, cut off; disable, tire out," which is perhaps from PIE root *kop- "to beat, strike, smite" (see hatchet (n.)), or perhaps Pre-Greek.
Like colon (n.1) and period it was originally a Greek rhetorical term for a part of a sentence, and like them it has been transferred to the punctuation mark that identifies it. In reading aloud the punctuation mark is used to admit small interruptions in continuity of speech for the sake of clarity, but its purpose is to indicate grammatical structure.
university town in England, Middle English Oxforde, from Old English Oxnaforda (10c.) literally "where the oxen ford" (see ox + ford (n.)). In reference to a type of shoe laced over the instep, it is attested from 1721 (Oxford-cut shoes). In reference to an accent supposedly characteristic of members of the university, by 1855. Related: Oxfordian; Oxfordish; Oxfordist; Oxfordy.
Oxford comma for "serial comma" (the second in A, B, and C) is attested by 1990s, from its being used by Oxford University Press or its recommendation by Henry W. Fowler, long associated with Oxford University, in his influential and authoritative book on English usage (1926) in which he writes "there is no agreement at present on the punctuation," but adds that the omission of the serial comma "often leaves readers helpless against ambiguity."
thin sloping line similar to a modern slash, used as a comma in medieval MSS and still in modern text to indicate line breaks in poetry, 1837, from French virgule (16c.), from Latin virgula "punctuation mark," literally "little twig," diminutive of virga "shoot, rod, stick." The word had been borrowed in its Latin form in 1728.
alsosemi-colon, point used in punctuation, consisting of a dot above a comma, to mark a sentence somewhat more independent than that marked by a comma, 1640s, a hybrid coined from Latin-derived semi- + Greek-based colon (n.1). The mark itself was (and is) in Greek the point of interrogation. The semicolon butterfly (by 1841, American English) is so called for the silver mark on its wings.
[T]he semicolon was a Latin delicacy which the obtuse English typographer resisted. So late as 1580 and 1590 treatises on orthography do not recognize any such innovation ; the Bible of 1592, though printed with appropriate accuracy, is without a semicolon ; but in 1633 its full rights are established by Charles Butler's English Grammar. ... [I]t is evident that Shakespeare could never have used the semicolon ; a circumstance which the profound George Chalmers mourns over, opining that semicolons would often have saved the poet from his commentators. [Isaac. D'Israeli, "Amenities of Literature," 1841]
1791, in a South African context, "private military raid undertaken by the Boers against the natives for personal ends," also the name of the leader of the raid and the permission given for it, from Afrikaans commando, "a troop under a commander," from Portuguese commando, literally "party commanded" (see command (v.)).
"A colonist" says he, "who lives two hundred leagues up the country, arrives at the Cape, to complain that the Caffrees have taken all his cattle; and intreats a commando, which is a permission to go, with the help of his neighbours, to retake his property; the governor, who either does not, or feigns not to understand the trick, adheres strictly to the facts expressed in the petition: a preamble of regular information would occasion long delays; a permission is easily given—tis but a word—the fatal word is written, which proves a sentence of death to a thousand poor savages, who have no such defence or resources as their persecutors." [George Carter, "A Narrative of the Loss of the Grosvenor," 1791]
Sense of "elite special forces soldier trained for rapid operations" is from 1940 (originally of shock troops to repel the threatened German invasion of England), first attested in writings of Winston Churchill, who could have picked it up during the Boer War.
Phrase going commando "not wearing underwear" attested by 1996, U.S. slang, perhaps on notion of being ready for instant action.
"commanding officer," especially of a fortified town or garrison, 1680s, from French commandant "the one commanding" originally "commanding," present participle of commander (Old French comander) "to order, enjoin;" see command (v.). Similar formation in Spanish and Italian comandante.
c. 1300, "order or direct with authority" (transitive), from Old French comander "to order, enjoin, entrust" (12c., Modern French commander), from Vulgar Latin *commandare, from Latin commendare "to recommend, entrust to" (see commend); altered by influence of Latin mandare "to commit, entrust" (see mandate (n.)). In this sense Old English had bebeodan.
Intransitive sense "act as or have authority of a commander, have or exercise supreme power" is from late 14c. Also from late 14c. as "have within the range of one's influence" (of resources, etc.), hence, via a military sense, "have a view of, overlook" in reference to elevated places (1690s). Related: Commanded; commanding.
Command-post "headquarters of a military unit" is from 1918. A command performance (1863) is one given by royal command.
c. 1400, "an order, a command; what is commanded or ordered," from Old French comand (14c.), from comander "to order, to entrust" (see command (v.)). Meaning "control, right or authority to order or compel obedience" is from mid-15c. Meaning "power of control, mastery" (of a situation, a language, etc.) is from 1640s.
1881, "to seize or force into military service," from Dutch (especially Afrikaans) kommandeeren "to command" (for military service), from French commander "to order" (see command (v.)). General sense "take arbitrary possession of" is from 1900. Related: Commandeered; commandeering.
late 13c., "an order from an authority," originally "any one of the ten injunctions engraved upon stone tablets and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai according to Exodus," from Old French comandement "order, command," from Latin *commandamentum, from *commandare (see command (v.)). Pronounced as four syllables until 17c.
Of þe x commandements ... þe first comondement is þis, O God we ssul honuri [c. 1280]
Commandments, short for The Ten Commandments, is attested from early 13c. In Old English they were ða bebodu.