1520s, "manual skill, skill in using the hands; physical adroitness in general," from French dexterité (16c.), from Latin dexteritatem (nominative dexteritas) "readiness, skillfulness, prosperity," from dexter "skillful," also "right (hand)," from PIE root *deks- "right, on the right hand," also "south." Compare dexter. In 16c.-18c. also "mental adroitness or skill," often in a bad sense, "cleverness in taking advantage or avoiding responsibility."