1530s, "freedom from exaggeration, self-control," from French modestie or directly from Latin modestia "moderation, sense of honor, correctness of conduct," from modestus "moderate, keeping due measure, sober, gentle, temperate," from modus "measure, manner" (from PIE root *med- "take appropriate measures"). Meaning "quality of having a moderate opinion of oneself, retiring demeanor, disinclination to presumption, unobtrusiveness" is from 1550s; that of "womanly propriety, purity or delicacy of thought or manner" is from 1560s.
In euery of these thinges and their semblable is Modestie; whiche worde nat beinge knowen in the englisshe tonge, ne of al them which under stode latin, except they had radde good autours, they improprely named this vertue discretion. [Sir Thomas Elyot, "The Boke Named The Gouernour," 1531]
La pudeur donne des plaisirs bien flatteurs à l'amant: elle lui fait sentir quelles lois l'on transgresse pour lui;(Modesty both pleases and flatters a lover, for it lays stress on the laws which are being transgressed for his sake.) [Stendhal "de l'Amour," 1822]
The pride which masks as modesty is the most perverse of all. [Marcus Aurelius]
"modesty," especially in sexual matters, 1937, a French word in English, from French pudeur "modesty," from Latin pudor "shame, modesty," from pudere "make ashamed" (see pudendum). The same word had been borrowed into English directly from Latin as pudor (1620s), but this became obsolete.
veil worn by some Muslim women, by 1906 in this sense in bilingual dictionaries; in classical Arabic it meant "partition, screen, curtain," and also generally "rules of modesty and dress for females;" from root h-j-b. It is defined in an 1800 English lexicon of "the Hindoostanee language" as "modesty, shame," and in other such dictionaries c. 1800 it has connotations of "to cover, hide, conceal." The 1906 dictionary also has hijab as "modesty."
1560s, "appropriateness, state or quality of being fit or suitable," from Latin decentia "comeliness, decency," from decentem "becoming, fitting," present participle of decere "to be fitting or suitable," from PIE *deke-, from root *dek- "to take, accept." Meaning "modesty, freedom from ribaldry or obscenity" (i.e. "appropriateness to standards of society") is from 1630s.
Old English scamu, sceomu "feeling of guilt or disgrace; confusion caused by shame; disgrace, dishonor, insult, loss of esteem or reputation; shameful circumstance, what brings disgrace; modesty; private parts," from Proto-Germanic *skamo (source also of Old Saxon skama, Old Norse skömm, Swedish skam, Old Frisian scome, Dutch schaamte, Old High German scama, German Scham). The best guess is that this is from PIE *skem-, from *kem- "to cover" (covering oneself being a common expression of shame).
Until modern times English had a productive duplicate form in shand. An Old Norse word for it was kinnroði, literally "cheek-redness," hence, "blush of shame." Greek distinguished shame in the bad sense of "disgrace, dishonor" (aiskhyne) from shame in the good sense of "modesty, bashfulness" (aidos). To put (someone or something) to shame is mid-13c. Shame culture attested by 1947.
in French terms in English, "false, worthless," from French mauvais (fem. mauvaise) "bad," 12c., from Vulgar Latin *malifatius, literally "one who has a bad lot," from Latin malum "bad" (see mal-) + fatum "fate" (see fate (n.)). Among the borrowed expressions in which it figures are mauvaise honte "false modesty" (in English by 1721); mauvais sujet "a bad fellow, a 'hard case'" (1793); mauvais quart d'heure "brief but unpleasant experience" (1864).
early 15c., petycote, "men's short, tight-fitting coat," literally "a small coat," from petty + coat (n.). Originally a padded coat worn by men under armor, applied mid-15c. to a garment worn by women and young children. By 1590s, the typical feminine garment, hence a symbol of female sex or character and, colloquially, "a woman," as in petticoat government "rule or predominance of women in a home" (1702).
Men declare that the petticoatless female has unsexed herself and has left her modesty behind. [Godey's Magazine, April 1896]
"modest, bashful," 1550s, folk etymology alteration of shamefast, from Old English scamfæst "bashful," literally "restrained by shame," or else "firm in modesty," from shame (n.) + -fæst, adjectival suffix (see fast (adj.)). Related: Shamefacedly; shamefacedness.
shamefaced, -fast. It is true that the second is the original form, that -faced is due to a mistake, & that the notion attached to the word is necessarily affected in some slight degree by the change. But those who, in the flush of this discovery, would revert to -fast in ordinary use are rightly rewarded with the name of pedants .... [Fowler]