In the Biblical sense, which was the original one in English, the Latin word translates Greek phyle "race or tribe of men, body of men united by ties of blood and descent, a clan" (see phylo-). Extension to modern ethnic groups or races of people is from 1590s, specifically "a division of a barbarous race of people, usually distinguishable in some way from their congeners, united into a community under a recognized head or chief" [Century Dictionary], but colloquially of any aggregate of individuals of a kind.
early 15c., distributen, "to deal out or apportion, bestow in parts or in due proportion," from Latin distributus, past participle of distribuere "to divide, deal out in portions," from dis- "individually" (see dis-) + tribuere "to pay, assign, grant," also "allot among the tribes or to a tribe," from tribus (see tribe). Meaning "separate and put or place in order" is from 1550s. Related: Distributable; distributed; distributing.
mid-14c., distribucioun, "act of dividing or parceling out," from Old French distribution (13c.) and directly from Latin distributionem (nominative distributio) "a division, distribution," noun of action from past-participle stem of distribuere "to divide, deal out in portions," from dis- "individually" (see dis-) + tribuere "to pay, assign, grant," also "allot among the tribes or to a tribe," from tribus (see tribe).
Meaning "that which is distributed or apportioned" is from late 14c. Sense of "act of spreading out as over a surface" is from 1580s. Related: Distributional (1804).
"racial, pertaining to a race or tribe or phylum," 1873, probably coined in German, from Greek phyletikos "of one's tribe," from phyletēs "fellow tribesman," from phylē "a tribe" (see phylo-). Related: Phyletically.