c. 1300, distaunce, "a dispute or controversy, civil strife, rebellion;" early 14c., "disagreement, discord, strife;" from Old French destance "discord, quarrel" (13c.), with later senses directly from Latin distantia "a standing apart," from distantem (nominative distans) "standing apart, separate, distant," present participle of distare "stand apart," from dis- "apart, off" (see dis-) + stare "to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm."
Meaning "remoteness of space, extent of space between two objects or places" is from late 14c. Also "an interval of time" (late 14c., originally distaunce of times). Meaning "remote part of a field of vision" is by 1813. The figurative sense of "aloofness, remoteness in personal intercourse" (1590s) is the same as in stand-offish.
At a distance "far away" is from 1650s. To keep (one's) distance was originally figurative (c. 1600). Phrase go the distance (1930s) seems to be originally from the prize ring, where the word meant "scheduled length of a bout." But it also was a term in 19c. horse-racing heats, where distance meant "the space behind the winning horse in a race that other competing horses must be inside to avoid being disqualified for subsequent heats."
1570s "place at a distance" (transitive); 1640s, "leave at a distance by superior speed" (intransitive), from distance (n.). Sense of "to make to appear distant" is from 1690s. Specific sense of "leave behind in a (horse) race" is from 1670s (see the noun). The meaning "to keep at a distance" is by 1786, marked as "? Obs." in OED, but that was before 2020. Related: Distanced; distancing.
Distancing as a verbal noun is from 1670s; social distancing was used in sociology by 1960s in reference both to physical space and status.
Lieut. G.R.R. Savage, R.E., writing from Roorkee, North-West Provinces, India, sends us an account of some interesting experiments he has been making on long-distance telephones. He constructed telephones expressly for long-distance work, and succeeded in getting a bugle-call heard distinctly over 400 miles of Government telegraph line .... ["Nature," May 16, 1878]
*stā-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to stand, set down, make or be firm," with derivatives meaning "place or thing that is standing."
It forms all or part of: Afghanistan; Anastasia; apostasy; apostate; armistice; arrest; assist; astatic; astatine; Baluchistan; bedstead; circumstance; consist; constable; constant; constitute; contrast; cost; desist; destination; destine; destitute; diastase; distance; distant; ecstasy; epistasis; epistemology; establish; estaminet; estate; etagere; existence; extant; Hindustan; histidine; histo-; histogram; histology; histone; hypostasis; insist; instant; instauration; institute; interstice; isostasy; isostatic; Kazakhstan; metastasis; obstacle; obstetric; obstinate; oust; Pakistan; peristyle; persist; post (n.1) "timber set upright;" press (v.2) "force into service;" presto; prostate; prostitute; resist; rest (v.2) "to be left, remain;" restitution; restive; restore; shtetl; solstice; stable (adj.) "secure against falling;" stable (n.) "building for domestic animals;" stage; stalag; stalwart; stamen; -stan; stance; stanchion; stand; standard; stanza; stapes; starboard; stare decisis; stasis; -stat; stat; state (n.1) "circumstances, conditions;" stater; static; station; statistics; stator; statue; stature; status; statute; staunch; (adj.) "strong, substantial;" stay (v.1) "come to a halt, remain in place;" stay (n.2) "strong rope which supports a ship's mast;" stead; steed; steer (n.) "male beef cattle;" steer (v.) "guide the course of a vehicle;" stem (n.) "trunk of a plant;" stern (n.) "hind part of a ship;" stet; stoa; stoic; stool; store; stound; stow; stud (n.1) "nailhead, knob;" stud (n.2) "horse kept for breeding;" stylite; subsist; substance; substitute; substitution; superstition; system; Taurus; understand.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit tisthati "stands;" Avestan histaiti "to stand;" Persian -stan "country," literally "where one stands;" Greek histēmi "put, place, cause to stand; weigh," stasis "a standing still," statos "placed," stylos "pillar;" Latin sistere "stand still, stop, make stand, place, produce in court," status "manner, position, condition, attitude," stare "to stand," statio "station, post;" Lithuanian stojuos "I place myself," statau "I place;" Old Church Slavonic staja "place myself," stanu "position;" Gothic standan, Old English standan "to stand," stede "place;" Old Norse steði "anvil;" Old Irish sessam "the act of standing."
late 13c., "an announcement, proclamation;" c. 1300, "any loud or passionate utterance; any loud or inarticulate sound from a human or beast," also "entreaty, prayer," from cry (v.). By 1852 as "a fit of weeping;" from 1540s as "word or phrase used in battle." From 1530s as "the yelping of hounds in the chase."
The notion in far cry "a great distance, a long way" seems to be "calling distance;" compare out of cry "out of calling distance" (mid-14c.); within cry of "within calling distance" (1630s). Far cry itself seems to have been a Scottish phrase popularized by Scott ("Rob Roy," 1817), which notes that "The expression of a 'far cry to Lochow,' was proverbial."
before vowels tel-, word-forming element meaning "far, far off, operating over distance" (also, since c. 1940, "television"), from Greek tele "far off, afar, at or to a distance," related to teleos (genitive telos) "end, goal, completion, result," from PIE root *kwel- (2) "far" in space or time.