mid-15c., "the tilling of land, act of preparing the earth for crops," from Latin cultura "a cultivating, agriculture," figuratively "care, culture, an honoring," from past participle stem of colere "to tend, guard; to till, cultivate" (see colony). Meaning "the cultivation or rearing of a crop, act of promoting growth in plants" (1620s) was transferred to fish, oysters, etc., by 1796, then to "production of bacteria or other microorganisms in a suitable environment" (1880), then "product of such a culture" (1884).
The figurative sense of "cultivation through education, systematic improvement and refinement of the mind" is attested by c. 1500; Century Dictionary writes that it was, "Not common before the nineteenth century, except with strong consciousness of the metaphor involved, though used in Latin by Cicero." Meaning "learning and taste, the intellectual side of civilization" is by 1805; the closely related sense of "collective customs and achievements of a people, a particular form of collective intellectual development" is by 1867.
For without culture or holiness, which are always the gift of a very few, a man may renounce wealth or any other external thing, but he cannot renounce hatred, envy, jealousy, revenge. Culture is the sanctity of the intellect. [William Butler Yeats, journal, 7 March, 1909]
Slang culture vulture "one voracious for culture" is from 1947. Culture shock "disorientation experienced when a person moves to a different cultural environment or an unfamiliar way of life" is attested by 1940. Ironic or contemptuous spelling kulchur is attested from 1940 (Pound), and compare kultur.
early 15c., "pertaining to an archetype or model," from Late Latin idealis "existing in idea," from Latin idea in the Platonic sense (see idea). Senses "conceived as perfect; existing only in idea," are from 1610s.
"(hypothetical) perfect person, thing, or state," 1796, in a translation of Kant, from ideal (adj.). Hence "standard or model of perfection" (1849).
also counter-culture, "way of life or collective values deliberately at variance with the prevailing norms of a time and place," 1968, from counter- + culture (n.). Popularized by, and perhaps coined in, the book "The Making of a Counter Culture" by U.S. academic Theodore Roszak. As an adjective by 1972.
1743, of land, etc., "cultivated," adjective from culture. Meaning "developed under controlled natural conditions" is from 1906, originally of pearls. Meaning "refined, improved by exposure to intellectual culture" is by 1777.