case (n.1)

early 13c., "what befalls one; state of affairs," from Old French cas "an event, happening, situation, quarrel, trial," from Latin casus "a chance, occasion, opportunity; accident, mishap," literally "a falling," from cas-, past-participle stem of cadere "to fall, sink, settle down, decline, perish" (used widely: of the setting of heavenly bodies, the fall of Troy, suicides), from PIE root *kad- "to fall."

The notion is of "that which falls" as "that which happens" (compare befall). From its general nature, the word has taken on widespread extended and transferred meanings. Meaning "instance, example" is from c. 1300. Meaning "actual state of affairs" is from c. 1400. In law, "an instance of litigation" (late 14c.); in medicine, "an instance of a disease" (late 14c.).

The grammatical sense, "one of the forms which make up the inflections of a noun" (late 14c.) also was in Latin, translating Greek ptōsis "declension," literally "a falling." "A noun in the nominative singular ..., or a verb in the present indicative ...,

is conceived as standing straight. Then it falls, or is bent, or

declines into various positions" [Gilbert Murray, "Greek Studies"]

U.S. slang meaning "person" (especially one peculiar or remarkable in any way) is from 1848. Meaning "incident or series of events requiring police investigation" is from 1838. In case "in the event" is recorded from mid-14c. Case-history is from 1879, originally medical; case-study "study of a particular case" is from 1879, originally legal; case-law "law as settled by previous court cases" is from 1861.

case (n.2)

"receptacle, box, that which encloses or contains," early 14c., from Anglo-French and Old North French casse (Old French chasse "case, reliquary;" Modern French châsse), from Latin capsa "box, repository" (especially for books), from capere "to take, hold" (from PIE root *kap- "to grasp").

Meaning "outer protective covering" is from late 14c. Also used from 1660s with a sense of "frame" (as in staircase, casement). Artillery sense is from 1660s, from case-shot "small projectiles put in cases" (1620s). Its application in the printing trade (first recorded 1580s) to the two shallow wooden trays where compositors keep their types in compartments for easy access led to upper-case for capital letters (1862), so called from its higher position on the compositor's sloped work-table, and lower-case for small letters.

The cases, or receptacles, for the type, which are always in pairs, and termed the 'upper' and the 'lower,' are formed of two oblong wooden frames, divided into compartments or boxes of different dimensions, the upper case containing ninety-eight and the lower fifty-four. In the upper case are placed the capital, small capital, and accented letters, also figures, signs for reference to notes &c.; in the lower case the ordinary running letter, points for punctuation, spaces for separating the words, and quadrats for filling up the short lines. [The Literary Gazette, Jan. 29, 1859]

case (v.)

"enclose in a case," 1570s, from case (n.2). Related: Cased; casing.

Meaning "examine, inspect" (usually prior to robbing) is from 1915, American English slang, perhaps from the notion of giving a place a look on all sides. Compare technical case (v.) "cover the outside of a building with a different material" (1707), from case (n.) "external portion of a building" (1670s).

updated on January 28, 2022

Definitions of case from WordNet
case (n.)
an occurrence of something;
it was a case of bad judgment
Synonyms: instance / example
case (n.)
a special set of circumstances;
it may rain in which case the picnic will be canceled
Synonyms: event
case (n.)
a comprehensive term for any proceeding in a court of law whereby an individual seeks a legal remedy;
Synonyms: lawsuit / suit / cause / causa
case (n.)
the actual state of things;
that was not the case
case (n.)
a portable container for carrying several objects;
the musicians left their instrument cases backstage
case (n.)
a person requiring professional services;
a typical case was the suburban housewife described by a marriage counselor
case (n.)
a person who is subjected to experimental or other observational procedures; someone who is an object of investigation;
the cases that we studied were drawn from two different communities
Synonyms: subject / guinea pig
case (n.)
a problem requiring investigation;
Perry Mason solved the case of the missing heir
case (n.)
a statement of facts and reasons used to support an argument;
he stated his case clearly
case (n.)
the quantity contained in a case;
Synonyms: caseful
case (n.)
nouns or pronouns or adjectives (often marked by inflection) related in some way to other words in a sentence;
Synonyms: grammatical case
case (n.)
a specific state of mind that is temporary;
a case of the jitters
case (n.)
a person of a specified kind (usually with many eccentricities);
a mental case
Synonyms: character / eccentric / type
case (n.)
a specific size and style of type within a type family;
Synonyms: font / fount / typeface / face
case (n.)
an enveloping structure or covering enclosing an animal or plant organ or part;
Synonyms: sheath
case (n.)
the housing or outer covering of something;
the clock has a walnut case
Synonyms: shell / casing
case (n.)
the enclosing frame around a door or window opening;
Synonyms: casing
case (n.)
(printing) the receptacle in which a compositor has his type, which is divided into compartments for the different letters, spaces, or numbers;
for English, a compositor will ordinarily have two such cases, the upper case containing the capitals and the lower case containing the small letters
Synonyms: compositor's case / typesetter's case
case (n.)
bed linen consisting of a cover for a pillow;
Synonyms: pillowcase / slip / pillow slip
case (n.)
a glass container used to store and display items in a shop or museum or home;
Synonyms: display case / showcase / vitrine
case (v.)
look over, usually with the intention to rob;
They men cased the housed
case (v.)
enclose in, or as if in, a case;
Synonyms: encase / incase
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