c. 1200, "reason or motive for a decision, grounds for action; motive," from Old French cause "cause, reason; lawsuit, case in law" (12c.), and directly from Latin causa "a cause; a reason; interest; judicial process, lawsuit," which is of unknown origin.
From mid-14c. as "cause of an effect; source, origin." From late 14c. as "that which affords opportunity for a cause to operate, occasion;" also "reason for something taking place or for something being so; rational explanation." Also late 14c. as "proper or adequate reason, justification for an action." Sense of "matter of interest or concern; a side taken in controversy" is from c. 1300. Cause célèbre "celebrated legal case" is 1763, from French. Common cause "a shared object or aim" is by 1620s.