ancient unit of measure (usually from 18 to 22 inches) based on the forearm from elbow to fingertip, early 14c., from Latin cubitum, cubitus "the elbow, the forearm," generally regarded as a derivative of PIE *keu(b)- "to bend," but de Vaan finds this dubious based on the sense of the proposed cognates and the sound changes involved. Also compare cubicle.
It seems much safer to assume that cubitus 'elbow' is a specific instance of the ppp. cubitus of the verb cubare 'to lie down'. People lie down on their elbow if they sleep on their side, and the Romans even reclined when dining. It matters little whether the original meaning was 'forearm' or 'the elbow joint'. One may even suggest that the verb cubitare 'to lie down' ... is not (only) a frequentative to cubare, but (also) arose as a denominative 'to rest on the elbow' to cubitus. [de Vaan]
Such a measure, known by a word meaning "forearm" or the like, was known to many peoples (compare Greek pekhys, Hebrew ammah, English ell).
The word also was used in English in the "forearm, part of the arm from the elbow downward" sense (early 15c.); hence cubital "as long as a cubit" (mid-15c.), also "pertaining to the forearm" (1610s).
mid-15c., "bedroom, bedchamber," from Latin cubiculum "bedroom," from cubare "to lie down," which is perhaps from a PIE *kub-, with cognates in Middle Welsh kyscu, Middle Cornish koska, Middle Breton cousquet "to sleep," but de Vaan regards the PIE origin of the Latin word as "uncertain." Compare cubit.
Obsolete from 16c. but revived by 1858 for "dormitory sleeping compartment," especially in an English public school. The sense of "any partitioned space" (such as a library carrel or, later, office work station) is attested by 1926. Related: Cubicular.
unit of measure, Old English eln, originally "forearm, length of the arm" (as a measure, anywhere from a foot and a half to two feet), from PIE root *el- "elbow, forearm." The exact distance varied, in part depending on whose arm was used as the base and whether it was measured from the shoulder to the fingertip or the wrist: the Scottish ell was 37.2 inches, the Flemish 27 inches. Latin ulna also was a unit of linear measure, and compare cubit. The modern English unit of 45 inches seems to have been set in Tudor times.
Whereas shee tooke an inche of liberty before, tooke an ell afterwardes [Humfrey Gifford, "A Posie of Gilloflowers," 1580].
late 14c., Pigmei, "member of a fabulous race of dwarfs," described by Homer and Herodotus and said to inhabit Egypt or Ethiopia and India, from Latin Pygmaei (singular Pygmaeus), from Greek Pygmaioi, plural of Pygmaios "a Pygmy," noun use of adjective meaning "dwarfish."
It means etymologically "of the length of a pygmē; a pygmē tall," from pygmē "a cubit" (literally "a fist"), the measure of length from the elbow to the knuckle (equal to 18 "fingers," or about 13.5 inches; related to pyx "with clenched fist" and to Latin pugnus "fist" (from PIE root *peuk- "to prick"). The Greek use of the word in reference to the people presumably represents a folk etymology adaptation of a foreign word.
Figurative use for "person of small importance" is from 1590s. Believed in 17c. to refer to chimpanzees or orangutans, and occasionally the word was used in this sense. The ancient word was applied by Europeans to the equatorial African race, then newly discovered by them, from 1863, but the tribes probably were known to the ancients and likely were the original inspiration for the legend. As an adjective from 1590s. Related: Pygmean; Pygmaean.