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The literal sense is obsolete in English; the sense of "elegant, cultured" (of literature, arts, etc.)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]
"civility, politeness," 1717, from French politesse (17c.), from Italian politezza, properly "the quality of being polite," from polito "polite," from Latin politus (see polite). "In mod. usage generally with depreciatory connotation" [OED].
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.
"expressions or signs of esteem, deference, or compliment," 1610s; see respect (n.). Earlier (late 14c.) as "aspects, particular respects." For "expression of regard," Middle English had respeccioun (respection), from Latin. To pay (one's) respects "show polite attention by visiting or making a call" is by 1660s.