Entries linking to calibre
"inside diameter of a gun barrel," 1580s, from French calibre (by mid-16c., perhaps late 15c.), often said to be ultimately from Arabic qalib "a mold for casting." Barnhart remarks that Spanish calibre, Italian calibro "appear too late to act as intermediate forms" between the Arabic word and the French.
But English Words of Arabic Ancestry finds that the idea of an Arabic source "comes with no evidence and no background historical context to support it. It is far more likely that the word was formed in French" from Medieval Latin qua libra "of what weight" (a theory first published 19c. by Mahn), from fem. ablative of quis (from PIE root *kwo-, stem of relative and interrogative pronouns) + ablative of libra "balance" (see Libra).
In U.S., expressed in decimal parts of an inch (.44-caliber = ".44-inch caliber"). The earliest sense in English is a figurative one, "degree of merit or importance" (1560s), from French. Later, figuratively, "the capacity of one's mind, one's intellectual endowments."
word-ending that sometimes distinguish British from American English. In the U.S., the change from -re to -er (to match pronunciation) in words such as fibre, centre, theatre began in late 18c. and became standard there over the next 25 years at the urging of Noah Webster (the 1804 edition of his speller, and especially his 1806 dictionary). The -re spelling, like -our, however, had the authority of Johnson's dictionary behind it and was unmoved in Britain, where it came to be a point of national pride, contra the Yankees.
Despite Webster's efforts, -re was retained in words with -c- or -g- (such as ogre, acre, the latter of which Webster insisted to the end of his days ought to be aker, and it was so printed in editions of the dictionary during his lifetime). The -re spelling generally is more justified by conservative etymology, based on French antecedents. It is met today in the U.S. only in Theatre as an element in the proper names of entertainment showplaces, where it is perhaps felt to inspire a perception of bon ton.
updated on December 22, 2012