early 14c., polishen "make smooth or glossy" by friction or coating (of the surface of wood, stone, metal, etc.), from Old French poliss-, present participle stem of polir (12c.) "to polish, decorate, see to one's appearance," from Latin polire "to polish, make smooth; decorate, embellish;" figuratively "refine, improve," said by Watkins to be from PIE root *pel- (5) "to thrust, strike, drive," via the notion of fulling cloth, but there are other guesses.
The figurative sense of "free from coarseness, to refine" in English is recorded from mid-14c. Compare polite. Related: Polished; polishing. To polish off "finish" is by 1829 in pugilism slang, probably from the application of a coat of polish as the final step in a piece of work.
1590s, originally figurative, "absence of coarseness, elegance or style of manners," from polish (v.). From 1704 as "smoothness of surface;" 1705 as "act of polishing;" 1819 as "substance used in polishing."
late 14c., "polished, burnished" (mid-13c. as a surname), from Latin politus "refined, elegant, accomplished," literally "polished," past participle of polire "to polish, to make smooth" (see polish (v.)).
The literal sense is obsolete in English; the sense of "elegant, cultured" (of literature, arts, etc.) is from c. 1500; of persons, "refined or cultivated in speech, manner, or behavior," by 1620s. The meaning "behaving courteously, showing consideration for others" is by 1748 (implied in politely). Related: Politeness.
Polite applies to one who shows a polished civility, who has a higher training in ease and gracefulness of manners: politeness is a deeper, more comprehensive, more delicate, and perhaps more genuine thing than civility. Polite, though much abused, is becoming the standard word for the bearing of a refined and kind person toward others. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
It forms all or part of: anvil; appeal; catapult; compel; dispel; expel; felt (n.) "unwoven fabric matted together by rolling or beating;" filter; filtrate; impel; impulse; interpellation; interpolate; peal; pelt (v.) "to strike (with something);" polish; propel; pulsate; pulsation; pulse (n.1) "a throb, a beat;" push; rappel; repeal; repel; repousse.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Greek pallein "to wield, brandish, swing," pelemizein "to shake, cause to tremble;" Latin pellere "to push, drive;" Old Church Slavonic plŭstĭ.
"Polish person," 1570s, from Polish Polak "(male) Polish person," related to Polanie "Poles," Polska "Poland," polski "Polish" (see Pole). By 1834 as a term for Polish Jews (distinguished from Litvak). In North American usage, "Polish immigrant, person of Polish descent" (1879) and in that context considered offensive in English. As an adjective from c. 1600.
1773, "type of woman's overdress" (a tight, open gown looped at the sides), so called from from fancied resemblance to Polish costume; 1797, as the name of a type of stately dance; from French (danse) polonaise "a Polish (dance)," fem. of polonais (adj.) "Polish," from Pologne "Poland," from Medieval Latin Polonia "Poland" (see Poland). In the culinary sense, applied to dishes supposed to be cooked in Polish style, attested from 1889.