late 13c., from Old English hlaf "a portion of bread baked in a mass of definite form," from Proto-Germanic *khlaibuz, the common Germanic word for "bread" (source also of Old Norse hleifr, Swedish lev, Old Frisian hlef, Old High German hleib, German Laib, Gothic hlaifs "bread, loaf").
The Germanic root is of uncertain origin; it is perhaps connected to Old English hlifian "to raise higher, tower," on the notion of the bread rising as it bakes, but (according to OED) it is unclear whether "loaf" or "bread" is the original sense. Loaf also is disguised in lord and lady. Finnish leipä, Estonian leip, Old Church Slavonic chlebu, Lithuanian klepas probably are Germanic loan words.
The meaning "chopped meat shaped like a bread loaf" is attested from 1787. The figurative use of loaves and fishes to suggest "religious profession for the sake of personal gain" is from John vi.26.
1835, American English, apparently a back-formation from the earlier-attested loafer (1830). Related: Loafed; loafing. The noun meaning "an act of loafing" is attested from 1855.
The term "loafing" is, of course, very vague. Its meaning, like that of its opposite, "work," depends largely on the user. The highly successful quarterback with an E in Greek is a loafer in his professor's eyes, while the idea of the professor's working, in spite of his voluminous researches on Mycenean Table Manners, would excite hoots of derision from the laborer that lays the drains before his study window. [Yale Literary Magazine, May 1908]
mid-13c., laverd, loverd, from Old English hlaford "master of a household, ruler, feudal lord, superior; husband," also "God," translating Latin dominus, Greek kyrios in the New Testament, Hebrew yahweh in the Old (though Old English dryhten was more frequent). Old English hlaford is a contraction of earlier hlafweard, literally "one who guards the loaves," from hlaf "bread, loaf" (see loaf (n.)) + weard "keeper, guardian" (from PIE root *wer- (3) "perceive, watch out for").
Compare lady (literally "bread-kneader"), and Old English hlafæta "household servant," literally "loaf-eater." For the contraction, compare Harold. The modern monosyllabic form emerged 14c. Meaning "an owner of land, houses, etc.," is from c. 1300; the sense in landlord. As the "usual polite or respectful form of address to a nobleman under the rank of a duke, and to a bishop" [OED] from 1540s. As an interjection from late 14c. Lords "peers of England," especially as represented in parliaments, is from mid-15c.
Lord's Prayer is from 1540s. Year of our Lord is from late 14c. (translating Latin anno domini) in reference to the incarnation of God in Christ. Lord knows (who, what, why, etc.), expressing a state of ignorance, is from 1711. Lord of the Flies (1907) translates Beelzebub (q.v.); William Golding's book was published in 1954. To drink like a lord is from 1620s.
"kind of food made from flour or the meal of some grain, kneaded into a dough, fermented, and baked," Old English bread "bit, crumb, morsel; bread," cognate with Old Norse brauð, Danish brød, Old Frisian brad, Middle Dutch brot, Dutch brood, German Brot. According to one theory [Watkins, etc.] from Proto-Germanic *brautham, from PIE root *bhreu- "to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn," in reference to the leavening.
But OED argues at some length for the basic sense being not "cooked food" but "piece of food," and the Old English word deriving from a Proto-Germanic *braudsmon- "fragments, bits" (cognate with Old High German brosma "crumb," Old English breotan "to break in pieces") and being related to the root of break (v.). It cites Slovenian kruh "bread," literally "a piece."
Either way, by c. 1200 it had replaced the usual Old English word for "bread," which was hlaf (see loaf (n.)).
Extended sense of "food, sustenance in general" (late 12c.) is perhaps via the Lord's Prayer. Slang meaning "money" dates from 1940s, but compare breadwinner, and bread as "one's livelihood" dates to 1719. Bread and circuses (1914) is from Latin, in reference to food and entertainment provided by the government to keep the populace content. "Duas tantum res anxius optat, Panem et circenses" [Juvenal, Sat. x.80].
c. 1200, lafdi, lavede, from Old English hlæfdige (Northumbrian hlafdia, Mercian hlafdie), "mistress of a household, wife of a lord," apparently literally "one who kneads bread," from hlaf "bread" (see loaf (n.)) + -dige "maid," which is related to dæge "maker of dough" (which is the first element in dairy; see dey (n.1)). Also compare lord (n.)). Century Dictionary finds this etymology "improbable," and OED rates it "not very plausible with regard to sense," but no one seems to have a better explanation.
The medial -f- disappeared 14c. The word is not found outside English except where borrowed from it. Sense of "woman of superior position in society" is c. 1200; that of "woman whose manners and sensibilities befit her for high rank in society" is from 1861 (ladylike suggesting this sense is attested from 1580s, and ladily from c. 1400). Meaning "woman chosen as an object of chivalrous love" is from early 14c. Used commonly as an address to any woman since 1890s.
Applied since Old English to the Holy Virgin, hence many extended usages in plant names, place names, etc., from genitive singular hlæfdigan, which in Middle English merged with the nominative, so that lady- often represents (Our) Lady's, as in ladybug. Lady Day (late 13c.) was the festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (March 25). Ladies' man first recorded 1784; lady-killer "man supposed to be dangerously fascinating to women" is from 1811. Lady of pleasure recorded from 1640s. Lady's slipper as a type of orchid is from 1590s.
"free gift given by merchants to customers when accounts are settled," 1892, from Mexican Spanish, from Spanish pilón "sugar loaf."