late 14c., "an overseer, guardian, steward," from Latin actor "an agent or doer; a driver (of sheep, etc.)," in law, "accuser, plaintiff," also "theatrical player, orator," from past participle stem of agere "to set in motion, drive, drive forward," hence "to do, perform," also "act on stage, play the part of; plead a cause at law" (from PIE root *ag- "to drive, draw out or forth, move"). In English from mid-15c. as "a doer, maker," also "a plaintiff at law." Sense of "one who performs in plays" is 1580s, originally applied to both men and women. Related: Actorish; actorly; actory.
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