1590s, "to draw up a writing in chapters or articles" (i.e., under "headings"), in part a back-formation from capitulation (q.v.), in part from Medieval Latin capitulatus, past participle of capitulare "to draw up in heads or chapters," hence "arrange conditions," from capitulum "chapter," in classical Latin "heading," literally "a little head," diminutive of caput (genitive capitis) "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head").
The word often was used in reference to terms of surrender, and thus it came to be associated with them and to mean "yield to an enemy on stipulated terms" (a sense attested from 1680s). Related: Capitulated; capitulating. Compare chapter; also compare recapitulate.
updated on April 17, 2022