mid-14c., celynge, "act of paneling a room," noun formed (with -ing) from Middle English verb ceil "put a cover or ceiling over," later "cover (walls) with wainscoting, panels, etc." (early 15c.); from Old French celer "conceal," also "cover with paneling" (12c.), from Latin celare "to hide" (from PIE root *kel- (1) "to cover, conceal, save"). Probably influenced by Latin caelum "heaven, sky" (see celestial).
Extended to the paneling itself from late 14c., then to lath-and-plaster work. The meaning "interior overhead surface of a room" is attested by 1530s; by late 19c. the meaning "wainscoting" was only in provincial English. Figurative sense of "upper limit" is from 1934.
Colloquial figurative phrase hit the ceiling "lose one's temper, get explosively angry" is attested by 1908; earlier it meant "to fail" (by 1900, originally U.S. college slang). Glass ceiling in the figurative sense of "invisible barrier that prevents women from advancing" in management, etc., is attested from 1988.
updated on November 17, 2022