late 14c., "a taking, seizure," from Old French capcion "arrest, capture, imprisonment," or directly from Latin captionem (nominative capito) "a catching, seizing, holding, taking," noun of action from past-participle stem of capere "to take" (from PIE root *kap- "to grasp").
It was used from mid-17c. in the wording at the head of legal documents involving seizure, deposition, etc. ("Certificate of caption"). Thus the sense was extended to "the beginning of any document," and further to "heading of a chapter or section of an article" (1789), and, especially in U.S., "description or title below an illustration" (1919).
"write a caption for, affix a caption on or to," by 1901, from caption (n.). Related: Captioned; captioning.
updated on April 17, 2022