Middle English mēte, from Old English mete "food, nourishment, sustenance" (paired with drink), "item of food; animal food, fodder," also "a meal, repast," from Proto-Germanic *mati (source also of Old Frisian mete, Old Saxon meti, Old Norse matr, Old High German maz, Gothic mats "food," Middle Dutch, Dutch metworst, German Mettwurst "type of sausage"), from PIE *mad-i-, from root *mad- "moist, wet," also with reference to food qualities, (source also of Sanskrit medas- "fat" (n.), Old Irish mat "pig;" see mast (n.2)).
Narrower sense of "flesh of warm-blooded animals killed and used as food" is attested from c. 1300 (earlier this was flesh-meat, early 12c.). There is a similar sense evolution in French viande "meat," originally "food." In Middle English, vegetables still could be called grene-mete (15c.) and white meat was "a dairy food or product" (early 15c.). Figurative sense of "essential part" is from 1901.
Dark meat and light meat in reference to the meat of fowls, based on the color when cooked, were popularized 19c., supposedly as euphemisms for leg or thigh and breast, but earliest sources use both sets of terms without apparent embarrassment.
The choicest parts of a turkey are the side bones, the breast, and the thigh bones. The breast and wings are called light meat; the thigh-bones and side-bones dark meat. When a person declines expressing a preference, it is polite to help to both kinds. [Lydia Maria Child, "The American Frugal Housewife," Boston, 1835]
First record of meat loaf is from 1876. Meat-market "place where one looks for sex partners" is from 1896 (meat in various sexual senses of "penis, vagina, body regarded as a sex object, prostitute" are attested from 1590s; Old English for "meat-market" was flæsccyping ('flesh-cheaping')); slang meat wagon "ambulance" is from 1920, American English slang, said to date from World War I (in a literal sense by 1857). Meat-grinder is by 1858 in the literal sense "device for grinding meat;" in the figurative sense it is attested by 1951. Meat-hook is by 1812; in the colloquial transferred sense "arm" it is attested by 1919.
Old English hwit "whiteness, white food, white of an egg," from white (adj.). Also in late Old English "a highly luminous color devoid of chroma." Meaning "white part of the eyeball" is from c. 1400. Meaning "white man, person of a race distinguished by light complexion" is from 1670s; white man in this sense is from 1690s. White man's burden is from Kipling's 1899 poem:
Take up the White Man's burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
Old English hwit "bright, radiant; clear, fair," also as a noun (see separate entry), from Proto-Germanic *hweit- (source also of Old Saxon and Old Frisian hwit, Old Norse hvitr, Dutch wit, Old High German hwiz, German weiß, Gothic hveits), from PIE *kweid-o-, suffixed form of root *kweit- "white; to shine" (source also of Sanskrit svetah "white;" Old Church Slavonic sviteti "to shine," svetu "light;" Lithuanian šviesti "to shine," švaityti "to brighten").
As a surname, originally with reference to fair hair or complexion, it is one of the oldest in English, being well-established before the Conquest. Meaning "morally pure" was in Old English. Association with royalist causes is late 18c. Slang sense of "honorable, fair" is 1877, American English; in Middle English it meant "gracious, friendly, favorable." The racial sense "of those races (chiefly European or of European extraction) characterized by light complexion" is recorded from c. 1600; meaning "characteristic of or pertaining to white people" is from 1852, American English. White supremacy attested from 1868, American English [John H. Van Evrie, M.D., "White Supremacy and Negro Subordination," New York, 1868]; white flight is from 1966, American English.
White way "brightly illuminated street in a big city" is from 1908. White flag of truce or surrender is from c. 1600. White lie is attested from 1741. White Christmas is attested from 1847. White House as the name of the U.S. presidential residence is recorded from 1811. White water "river rapids" is recorded from 1580s. White Russian "language of Byelorussia" is recorded from 1850; the mixed drink is from c. 1978. Astronomical white dwarf is from 1924. White witch, one who used the power for good, is from 1620s.
"horse flesh, offal, scraps, etc., used as food for dogs," 1590s.
The white collar men are your clerks; they are your bookkeepers, your cashiers, your office men. We call them the 'white collar men' in order to distinguish them from the men who work with uniform and overalls and carry the dinner pails. The boys over on the West side got that name for them. It was supposed to be something a little better than they were. [Malcolm McDowell, quoted in Chicago Commerce, June 12, 1914]
White-collar crime attested by 1957 (there is a white-collar criminaloids from 1934).