c. 1600, "exercising compulsion, tending to compel," from French compulsif, from Latin compulsus, past participle of compellere "to drive together, force," from com "with, together" (see com-) + pellere "to drive" (from PIE root *pel- (5) "to thrust, strike, drive").
Psychological sense "acting on an instant impulse to behave in a certain way" is from 1902. As a noun, "something that tends to compel," attested from 1630s; psychological sense "person subject to compulsions" is from 1957. Related: Compulsively; compulsiveness.
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