1520s, "oblique or diagonal line," from French biais "a slant, a slope, an oblique," also figuratively, "an expedient, means" (13c., originally in Old French a past-participle adjective, "sideways, askance, against the grain"), a word of unknown origin. Probably it came to French from Old Provençal biais, which has cognates in Old Catalan and Sardinian, and is possibly via Vulgar Latin *(e)bigassius from Greek epikarsios "athwart, crosswise, at an angle," from epi "upon" (see epi-) + karsios "oblique" (from PIE *krs-yo-, suffixed form of root *sker- (1) "to cut").
In the old game of bowls, it was a technical term used in reference to balls made with a greater weight on one side (1560s), causing them to curve toward one side; hence the figurative use "a one-sided tendency of the mind" (1570s), and, at first especially in law, "undue propensity or prejudice."
The bias of education, the bias of class-relationships, the bias of nationality, the political bias, the theological bias—these, added to the constitutional sympathies and antipathies, have much more influence in determining beliefs on social questions than has the small amount of evidence collected. [Herbert Spencer, "The Study of Sociology," 1873]
For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections colour and infect the understanding. [Francis Bacon, "Novum Organum," 1620]
"giving a bias to, causing to incline to one side," 1610s literal; 1620s figurative; from bias (n.). Compare French biasier. Related: Biased; biasing.