late 14c., "contaminating or contaminated, containing contagion" (of air, water, etc.); "communicable" (of disease); also "morally corrupting," from Old French contagieus (Modern French contagieux) and directly from Late Latin contagiosus, from Latin contagio "a touching, contact," often in a bad sense, "a contact with something physically or morally unclean, contagion," from contingere "to touch," from assimilated form of com "with, together" (see con-) + tangere "to touch," from PIE root *tag- "to touch, handle." Figuratively applied to anything apt to spread from one to another (rumor, etc.) from 1650s. Related: Contagiously; contagiousness.
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