late 14c., from Old French especial "pre-eminent, important," from Latin specialis "belonging to a particular kind or species," from species "kind" (see species). Latin words with initial sp-, st-, sc- usually acquired an e- in Old French (see e-). Modern French has restored the word to spécial. In English, originally with the same sense as special (adj.), later restricted to feelings, qualities, etc.
updated on September 10, 2014