"principal street of a (U.S.) town," 1810, from main (adj.) + street. Used allusively to indicate "mediocrity, small-town materialism" from late 19c., a sense reinforced by the publication of Sinclair Lewis's novel "Main Street" (1920).
But a village in a country which is taking pains to become altogether standardized and pure, which aspires to succeed Victorian England as the chief mediocrity of the world, is no longer merely provincial, no longer downy and restful in its leaf-shadowed ignorance. It is a force seeking to dominate the earth, to drain the hills and sea of color, to set Dante at boosting Gopher Prairie, and to dress the high gods in Klassy Kollege Klothes. Sure of itself, it bullies other civilizations, as a traveling salesman in a brown derby conquers the wisdom of China and tacks advertisements of cigarettes over arches for centuries dedicate to the sayings of Confucius. ["Main Street"]
"principal line of a railway," 1841, from main (adj.) + line (n.). Meaning "affluent area of residence" is by 1917, originally (with capitals) that west of Philadelphia, from the "main line" of the Pennsylvania Railroad which added local stops to a string of backwater towns west of the city late 19c. that helped turn them into fashionable suburbs.
The Main Line, Philadelphia's most famous suburban district, was deliberately conceived in the 1870's and 1880's by the [Pennsylvania] Railroad, which built high-toned housing developments, ran hotels, more or less forced its executives to plunk their estates out there, and created a whole series of somewhat spurious Welsh towns along the railroad tracks. ... Now everybody assumes these all date from 1682, like the Robertses; but as Chestnut Hill people like to say, "nobody but Welsh peasants lived on the Main Line till the Railroad built it up." [Nathaniel Burt, "The Perennial Philadelphians," 1963]
The original station stops were, in order out from the city, Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Paoli. The train line for commuters along it is the Paoli Local.
"statement in passing," a judge's expression of opinion not regarded as binding or decisive, Latin, literally "something said incidentally;" from obiter "by the way" + dictum in the legal sense "a judge's expression of opinion which is not the formal resolution of a case or determination of the court."
Obiter dicta, legal dicta ... uttered by the way (obiter), not upon the point or question pending, as if turning aside for the time from the main topic of the case to collateral subjects. [Century Dictionary]
Latin obiter is from ob "in front of, toward" (see ob-) + iter "journey" (from PIE root *ei- "to go"). Klein's sources, however, say it is ob with the suffix -iter on analogy of circiter "about" from circa. Also see obituary.
"servile black man," 1922, somewhat inaccurately in reference to the humble, pious, but strong-willed main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852). The image implied in the insult perhaps is more traceable to the late 19c. minstel show versions of the story, which reached a far wider audience than the book.
I don't recall anyone in the 1920s using the term 'Uncle Tom' as an epithet. But what's amazing is how fast it caught on (in the 1930s). Black scholars picked up (the term) and just started throwing it at each other. [Ernest Allen, quoted in Hamilton, Kendra, "The Strange Career of Uncle Tom," Black Issues in Higher Education, June 2002]
As a verb, attested from 1937.
"evening before the first day of the new year," c. 1300; "þer þay dronken & dalten ... on nwe gerez euen." The Julian calendar began on January 1, but the Christian Church frowned on pagan celebrations of this event and chose the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) as its New Year's Day. The civic year in England continued to begin January 1 until late 12c., and even though legal documents then shifted to March 25, popular calendars and almanacs continued to begin on January 1. The calendar reform of 1751 restored the Julian New Year in England. New Year's was the main midwinter festival in Scotland from 17c., when Protestant authorities banned Christmas, and continued so after England reverted to Christmas, hence the Scottish flavor ("Auld Lang Syne," etc.). New Year's gathering in public places began 1878 in London, after new bells were installed in St. Paul's.
"day on which a memorial is made," by 1819, of any anniversary date, especially a religious anniversary; see memorial (adj.). As a specific end-of-May holiday commemorating U.S. war dead, it began informally in the late 1860s and originally commemorated the Northern soldiers killed in the Civil War. It was officially so called by 1869 among veterans' organizations, but Decoration Day also was used. The Grand Army of the Republic, the main veterans' organization in the North, officially designated it Memorial Day by resolution in 1882:
That the Commander-in-Chief be requested to issue a General Order calling the attention of the officers and members of the Grand Army of the Republic, and of the people at large, to the fact that the proper designation of May 30th is Memorial Day and to request that it may be always so called. [Grand Army Blue Book, Philadelphia, 1884]
The South, however, had its own Confederate Memorial Day, and there was some grumbling about the apparent appropriation of the name.
The word "Memorial" was adopted by the Maryland Confederates shortly after the war, and has been generally used throughout the South. It is distinctively Confederate in its origin and use, and I would suggest to all Confederate societies to adhere to it. The Federals' annual day of observance is known as "Decoration Day," having been made so by an act of Congress, and the 30th day of May named as the date. In Maryland there is annually a Decoration Day and a Memorial Day. The two words are expressive not only of the nature of the observance, but also of the people who participate therein. [Confederate Veteran, November 1893]