late 15c., "shot, missiles;" later "a stroke in drawing, a short line" (1580s), from French trait "line, stroke, feature, tract," from Latin tractus "drawing, drawing out, dragging, pulling," later "line drawn, feature," from past participle stem of trahere "to pull, draw" (see tract (n.1)). Sense of "particular feature, distinguishing quality" in English is first recorded 1752.
"individual chosen because of the presence of some trait to be studied," 1929, from Latin probandus, gerundive of probare "to make good, esteem good; make credible, show, prove, demonstrate" (see prove).
adjective ("pertaining to or indicating character") and noun ("a distinctive trait; that which gives or indicates character") both first attested 1660s, from character + -istic on model of Greek kharaktēristikos. Earlier in the adjectival sense was characteristical (1620s). Related: Characteristically (1640s). Characteristics "distinctive traits" also attested from 1660s.
in reference to character, style, trait, or idiom felt to be from the Oriental nations, 1769, from oriental + -ism. In the sense of "the West's patronizing representations of societies and peoples of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East" it was popularized in the 1978 book of that name by Palestinian intellectual Edward W. Said. Related: Orientalist.
1670s, "tending to recede, going backward," from Latin recess-, past-participle stem of recedere "to go back, fall back" (see recede) + -ive. Linguistics sense in ancient Greek grammar is from 1879; in genetics, of a hereditary trait present but not perceptibly expressed in the individual organism, 1900, from German recessiv (Mendel, 1865). Related: Recessively; recessiveness.
mid-14c., "superiority, greatness, distinction" in anything, from Old French excellence, from Latin excellentia "superiority, excellence," from excellentem (nominative excellens) "towering, distinguished, superior," present participle of excellere "surpass, be superior; to rise, be eminent," from ex "out from" (see ex-) + -cellere "rise high, tower," related to celsus "high, lofty, great," from PIE root *kel- (2) "to be prominent; hill." From late 14c. as "mark or trait of superiority, that in which something or someone excels."
1864, in anthropology, "the doctrine that the human race is not one but consists of many distinct species" (opposed to monogeny or monogenism), from Late Greek polygenēs "of many kinds," from polys "many" (see poly-) + -genēs "born" (from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget"). By c. 1970 the same word was used in a different sense, in reference to the theory that multiple genes contribute to the form or variant of some particular trait of an organism. Another word for the anthropological theory was polygenism (1857).