Renaissance (n.)

"great period of revival of classical-based art and learning in Europe that began in the fourteenth century," 1840, from French renaissance des lettres, from Old French renaissance, literally "rebirth," usually in a spiritual sense, from renastre "grow anew" (of plants), "be reborn" (Modern French renaître), from Vulgar Latin *renascere, from Latin renasci "be born again, rise again, reappear, be renewed," from re- "again" (see re-) + nasci "be born" (Old Latin gnasci, from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget").

An earlier term for it was revival of learning (1785). In general usage, with a lower-case r-, "a revival" of anything that has long been in decay or disuse (especially of learning, literature, art), it is attested by 1855.

[Renaissance] was so far established as the English word for the thing before it was latinized or anglicized into renascence that it is still the more intelligible of the two, & may well be left in possession. [Henry W. Fowler, "Modern English Usage," Oxford: 1926. He does, however, recommend pronouncing it as English, "rinā'sns."]

As an adjective, "of or pertaining to the Renaissance," by 1842. Renaissance man is attested by 1885 in the basic sense of "a man alive during the Renaissance;" by 1898 particularly with a notion of "exhibiting the virtues and characteristics of an idealized man of the Renaissance," humanism, scholarship, varied attainments, freedom of thought and personality; used by 1949 of modern or living persons, sometimes merely meaning "well-rounded." 

updated on September 19, 2021