"headsman," 1560s; "one who carries into effect," 1590s; agent noun from execution. Old English words for it included flæscbana, flæscwellere.
Entries linking to executioner
late 14c., "a carrying out, a putting into effect; enforcement; performance (of a law, statute, etc.), the carrying out (of a plan, etc.)," from Anglo-French execucioun (late 13c.), Old French execucion "a carrying out" (of an order, etc.), from Latin executionem (nominative executio) "an accomplishing," noun of action from past-participle stem of exequi/exsequi "to follow out" (see execute).
Specific sense of "act of putting to death" (mid-14c.) is from Middle English legal phrases such as don execution of deth "carry out a sentence of death." Literal meaning "action of carrying something into effect" is from late 14c. John McKay, coach of the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers (U.S. football team), when asked by a reporter what he thought of his team's execution, replied, "I think it would be a good idea." Executor and executioner were formerly used indifferently, because both are carrying out legal orders.
Compare executioner, and also executant "one who does or performs" (especially a musical performer), from 1858; executer "one who performs" (1530s).