late 13c., peine, "the agony suffered by Christ;" c. 1300, "punishment," especially for a crime, "legal punishment of any sort" (including fines and monetary penalties); also "condition one feels when hurt, opposite of pleasure," including mental or emotional suffering, grief, distress; from Old French peine "difficulty, woe, suffering, punishment, Hell's torments" (11c.), from Latin poena "punishment, penalty, retribution, indemnification" (in Late Latin also "torment, hardship, suffering"), from Greek poinē "retribution, penalty, quit-money for spilled blood," from PIE *kwei- "to pay, atone, compensate" (see penal).
The early "punishment" sense in English survives in phrase on pain of death. Also c. 1300 the word was used for the torments of eternal damnation after death. The sense of "exertion, effort" is from late 14c.; pains "great care taken (for some purpose), exertion or trouble taken in doing something" is recorded from 1520s.
Phrase give (someone) a pain "be annoying and irritating" is by 1895; as a noun, localized as pain in the neck (1924) and pain in the ass (1934), though this last might have gone long unrecorded and be the original sense and the others euphemisms. First record of pain-killer "drug or herb that reduces pain" is by 1845.
c. 1300, peinen, "to exert or strain oneself, strive; endeavor," from Old French pener (v.) "to hurt, cause pain," from peine, and from Middle English peine (n.); see pain (n.). Transitive meaning "cause pain; inflict pain" is from late 14c. That of "to cause sorrow, grief, or unhappiness" also is from late 14c. In Middle English also "to punish for an offense or fault; to torture, to torment." Related: Pained; paining.
"hill, small eminence," obsolete except in place names, from Old English hlaw "hill, mound," especially "barrow," a noun related to hleonian "to lean," from PIE root *klei- "to lean." Compare Latin clivus "hill," Greek klitys "side of a hill," from the same PIE root.
"the ordinary sound uttered by an ox or cow" [OED], 1540s, from low (v.); ultimately imitative.
"not high, below the usual level," late 13c., earlier lah (late 12c.), "not rising much, being near the base or ground" (of objects or persons), also "lying on the ground or in a deep place" (late 13c.). This is not found in Old English, so the word is probably from Old Norse lagr "low, low-down, short; humble," or a similar Scandinavian source (compare Swedish låg, Danish lav), from Proto-Germanic *lega- "lying flat, low" (source also of Old Frisian lech, Middle Dutch lage, Dutch laag "low," dialectal German läge "flat"), from PIE root *legh- "to lie down, lay."
In reference to sounds, "not loud," also "having a deep pitch," from c. 1300. Meaning "humble in rank" is from c. 1200; "undignified, not high in character" is from 1550s; meaning "coarse, vulgar" is from 1759. Sense of "dejected, dispirited" is attested from 1737. Of prices, from c. 1400. In geographical usage, low refers to the part of a country near the sea-shore (c. 1300), as in Low Countries "Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg" (1540s). Low German languages (1845) are so called for being spoken in the lower elevations of old Germany.
Abject, low, and mean may have essentially the same meaning, but low is more often used with respect to nature, condition, or rank: mean, to character or conduct: abject, to spirit. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Low blow in the figurative sense (1940s) is from pugilism. To lie low is from mid-13c. as "get down so as not to be seen," 1880 in the modern slang sense "keep quiet." Low Church in 18c. English history referred to Anglicans laying little stress on church authority (1702); in 19c. it meant evangelical Anglicans.
Old English hlowan "moo, make a noise like a cow," from Proto-Germanic imitative *khlo- (source also of Middle Dutch loeyen, Dutch loeien, Old Low Franconian luon, Old High German hluojen). This is perhaps identical with the imitative PIE root *kele- (2) "to shout."
the low point of anything, the minimum, 1818, originally in card games; general sense by 1911.
mid-15c., "to keep something back, hinder," from back (adv.). The meaning "cause to move back" is from 1781. The intransitive sense of "move or go back" is from late 15c. The meaning "furnish with a back or backing" is from 1728, from back (n.). The meaning "to support" (as by a bet) is attested from 1540s. Related: Backed; backing.
"being behind, away from the front, in a backward direction," Middle English, from back (n.) and back (adv.); it is often difficult to distinguish from these when the word is used in combinations. Formerly with comparative backer (c. 1400), also backermore. To be on the back burner in the figurative sense of "postponed" is by 1960, from the image of a cook keeping a pot there to simmer while at work on another concoction at the front of the stove.