mid-13c., "sinfulness," from Old French crimne (12c., Modern French crime), from Latin crimen (genitive criminis) "charge, indictment, accusation; crime, fault, offense," perhaps from cernere "to decide, to sift" (from PIE root *krei- "to sieve," thus "discriminate, distinguish").
But Klein (citing Brugmann) rejects this and suggests *cri-men, which originally would have been "cry of distress" (Tucker also suggests a root in "cry" words and refers to English plaint, plaintiff, etc.). Meaning "offense punishable by law" is from late 14c. The Latin word is glossed in Old English by facen, also "deceit, fraud, treachery." Crime wave first attested 1893, American English.
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