"small particle, as of dust visible in a ray of sunlight," Old English mot, of unknown origin; perhaps related to Dutch mot "dust from turf, sawdust, grit," Norwegian mutt "speck, mote, splinter, chip." Hence, anything very small. Many references are to Matthew vii.3.
late 14c., "parti-colored, variegated in color" (originally of fabric), from Anglo-French motteley, a word of unknown origin, perhaps [OED] based on Old English mot "speck" or a cognate Germanic word (see mote). But Klein's sources say probably from Gaulish. Century Dictionary rejects both. "Diversified in color," especially of a fool's dress. Hence, allusively, "a fool" (1600). As a noun meaning "cloth of contrasting mixed color" from late 14c.
c. 1300, mote "a mound, a hill" (a sense now obsolete); late 14c., "ditch or deep trench dug round the rampart of a castle or other fortified place," from Old French mote "mound, hillock, embankment; castle built on a hill" (12c.; Modern French motte) and directly from Medieval Latin mota "mound, fortified height," a word of unknown origin, perhaps from Gaulish mutt, mutta.
The sense shifted in Norman French from the castle mound to the ditch dug around it. For a similar evolution, compare ditch (n.) and dike. As a verb, "to surround with a moat," early 15c. Related: Moated.
1510s, "teacher's pointer," alteration of festu "piece of straw, twig" (late 14c.), from Old French festu "straw; object of little value" (12c., Modern French fétu), from Vulgar Latin *festucum, from Latin festuca "straw, stalk, rod," probably related to ferula "reed, whip, rod" (see ferule). Sense of "pasture, lawn grass" is first recorded 1762. Wyclif (1382) has festu in Matthew vii.3 for the "mote" in the eye. In Old French rompre le festu was to symbolically break a straw to signify the breaking of a bond.
"choral composition on a sacred text, intended to be sung in a Church service," late 14c., from Old French motet (13c.), diminutive of mot "word" (see mot), or from Medieval Latin motetum, diminutive of motto.
"female parent, a woman in relation to her child," Middle English moder, from Old English modor, from Proto-Germanic *mōdēr (source also of Old Saxon modar, Old Frisian moder, Old Norse moðir, Danish moder, Dutch moeder, Old High German muoter, German Mutter), from PIE *mater- "mother" (source also of Latin māter, Old Irish mathir, Lithuanian motė, Sanskrit matar-, Greek mētēr, Old Church Slavonic mati), "[b]ased ultimately on the baby-talk form *mā- (2); with the kinship term suffix *-ter-" [Watkins]. Spelling with -th- dates from early 16c., though that pronunciation is probably older (see father (n.)).
Sense of "that which has given birth to anything" is from late Old English; as a familiar term of address to an elderly woman, especially of the lower class, by c. 1200.
Mother Nature as a personification is attested from c. 1600; mother earth as an expression of the earth as the giver of life is from 1580s. Mother tongue "one's native language" is attested from late 14c. Mother country "a country in relation to its colonies" is from 1580s. Mother-love "such affection as is shown by a mother" is by 1854. Mother-wit "native wit, common sense" is from mid-15c.
Mother of all ________ (1991), is Gulf War slang, from Saddam Hussein's use in reference to the coming battle; it is an Arabic idiom (as well as an English one), for instance Ayesha, second wife of Muhammad, is known as Mother of Believers; the figure is attested in English in 19c. (Virginia is called mother of commonwealths from 1849). Mother Carey's chickens is late 18c. sailors' nickname for storm petrels, or for snowflakes.
general common name of birds of the genus Corvus (the larger sort being sometimes called ravens), Old English crawe, which is held to be imitative of the bird's cry. Compare Old Saxon kraia, Dutch kraai, Old High German chraja, German Kräke.
Noted for sagacity and sociability. The British and North American species are very similar. Phrase as the crow flies "in a straight line" is from 1810; the image is attested in different form from 1800.
American English figurative phrase eat crow "do or accept what one vehemently dislikes and has opposed defiantly, accept things which, though not unbearable, are yet scarcely to be wished for," is attested by 1870 (originally often eat boiled crow), and seems to be based on the notion that the bird is edible when boiled but hardly agreeable.
There was an oft-reprinted mid-19c. joke about a man who, to settle a bet that he could eat anything, agrees to eat a boiled crow. As he with great difficulty swallows the first to mouthfuls, he says to the onlookers, "I can eat crow, but I don't hanker arter it." The joke is attested by 1854 (Walter Etecroue turns up 1361 in the Calendar of Letter Books of the City of London).
I tried my best to eat crow, but it was too tough for me. "How do you like it?" said the old man, as, with a desperate effort, he wrenched off a mouthful from a leg. "I am like the man," said I, "who was once placed in the same position: 'I ken eat crow, but hang me if I hanker arter it.'" "Well," says the captain, "it is somewhat hard; but try some of the soup and dumplings and don t condemn crow-meat from this trial, for you shot the grandfather and grandmother of the flock: no wonder they are tough; shoot a young one next time." "No more crow-meat for me, thank you," said I. [James G. Swan, "The Northwest Coast, or Three Years' Residence in Washington Territory," New York, 1857]
The image of a crow's foot for the wrinkles appearing with age at the corner of the eye is from late 14c. ("So longe mote ye lyve Til crowes feet be growen under youre ye." [Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, c. 1385]).