"a choice or select body, the best part," 1823, from French élite "selection, choice," from Old French eslite (12c.), fem. past participle of elire, elisre "pick out, choose," from Latin eligere "choose" (see election). Borrowed in Middle English as "chosen person" (late 14c.), especially a bishop-elect, but it died out mid-15c. The word was re-introduced by Byron's "Don Juan." As an adjective by 1852. As a typeface, recorded by 1920.
late 14c. (early 14c. in surnames), "gamekeeper, sworn officer of a forest whose work is to walk through it and protect it," agent noun from range (v.). Attested from 1590s in the general sense of "a rover, a wanderer;" from 1660s in the sense of "man (often mounted) who polices an area." The elite U.S. combat unit is so called from 1942 (organized 1941).
also janisary, "elite Turkish infantry," 1520s, from French janissaire (15c.), from Italian giannizzero, from Turkish yenicheri, literally "new troops," from yeni "new." The second element means "soldiery, but is said to have been conformed to the Italian form from an original Turkish asker (plural asakir) "army, soldier," from Arabic 'askar "army, troop." Formed 1362 from slaves and prisoners of war, until late 17c. largely recruited from converts to Islam and by compulsory conscription of Christian subjects. In later times Turks and other Muslims joined the corps because of the various privileges attached to it; it was abolished 1826. Related: Janizarian; Janisarian.
[Young's book] imagined an elite that got its position not from ancestry, but from test scores and effort. For him, meritocracy was a negative term; his spoof was a warning about the negative consequences of assigning social status based on formal educational qualifications, and showed how excluding from leadership anyone who couldn't jump through the educational hoops would create a new form of discrimination. And that's exactly what has happened. [Lani Guinier, interview, New York Times, Feb. 7, 2015]
c. 1200, flour, also flur, flor, floer, floyer, flowre, "the blossom of a plant; a flowering plant," from Old French flor "flower, blossom; heyday, prime; fine flour; elite; innocence, virginity" (12c., Modern French fleur), from Latin florem (nominative flos) "flower" (source of Italian fiore, Spanish flor), from PIE root *bhel- (3) "to thrive, bloom."
From late 14c. in English as "blossoming time," also, figuratively, "prime of life, height of one's glory or prosperity, state of anything that may be likened to the flowering state of a plant." As "the best, the most excellent; the best of its class or kind; embodiment of an ideal," early 13c. (of persons, mid-13c. of things); for example flour of milk "cream" (early 14c.); especially "wheat meal after bran and other coarse elements have been removed, the best part of wheat" (mid-13c.). Modern spelling and full differentiation from flour (n.) is from late 14c.
In the "blossom of a plant" sense it ousted its Old English cognate blostm (see blossom (n.)). Also used from Middle English as a symbol of transitoriness (early 14c.); "a beautiful woman" (c. 1300); "virginity" (early 14c.). Flower-box is from 1818. Flower-arrangement is from 1873. Flower child "gentle hippie" is from 1967.
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.