an undecomposable elementary substance having certain recognizable qualities (opacity, conductivity, plasticity, high specific gravity, etc.), mid-13c., from Old French metal "metal; material, substance, stuff" (12c.), from Latin metallum "metal, mineral; mine, quarry," from Greek metallon "metal, ore" (senses found only in post-classical texts, via the notion of "what is got by mining"); originally "mine, quarry-pit," probably a back-formation from metalleuein "to mine, to quarry," a word of unknown origin. Perhaps related somehow to metallan "to seek after," but Beekes finds this "hardly convincing."
The concept was based on the metals known from antiquity: gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, and tin. As an adjective, "of or covered with metal," from late 14c. As short for heavy metal (rock music) by 1980. Metal-work "work, especially artistic work, in metal" is by 1724.
early 15c., "of metal, made from metal," from Latin metallicus "of or belonging to metal," from Greek metallikos, from metallon "metal, ore" (see metal). Specific use in chemistry, indicating the condition of a metal in which it exists by itself, not mineralized or combined with substances which convert it into an ore, is by 1797.
1580s, a variant spelling of metal. Both forms of the word were used interchangeably (by Shakespeare and others) in the literal sense and in the figurative one of "stuff of which a person is made, (a person's) physical or moral constitution" (1550s), hence "natural temperament," specifically "ardent masculine temperament, spirit, courage" (1590s). The spellings diverged early 18c. and this form took the figurative sense. Related: Mettled.
First formulated as a system by Burq in 1848, and hence often called Burqism, it has been recently revived by Charcot. Simple disks of various metals are employed in contact with the external parts of the body, from which different therapeutic results are claimed. Other observers assert that all the phenomena described as following the application of metals may be produced by disks of wood, and that whatever curative results are attained are due to mental effects, rather than to any special virtues emanating from the metals themselves. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
1580s, "a metal disk bearing a figure or inscription," from French médaille (15c.), from Italian medaglia "a medal," according to OED from Vulgar Latin *metallea (moneta) "metal (coin)," from Latin metallum (see metal). The other theory [Klein, Barnhart, Watkins] is that medaglia originally meant "coin worth half a denarius," and is from Vulgar Latin *medalia, from Late Latin medialia "little halves," neuter plural of medialis "of the middle" (from PIE root *medhyo- "middle").
Originally in reference to a trinket or charm; by 1610s as a commemorative of a person, institution, or event. As a reward for merit, proficiency, etc., it is attested by 1751. A medal is distinguished from a coin by not being intended to serve as a medium of exchange, but in 18c. English, as in older French and Italian, it was applied to old coins no longer in circulation kept as curiosities. Related: Medallic.