mid-15c., "performed, carried out;" 1640s, "of the branch of government that carries out the laws," from Middle French executif, from Latin executivus, from past participle stem of exequi "follow after; carry out, accomplish" (see execution). The noun in this sense is from 1776, as a branch of government charged with the execution and enforcement of the laws. Meaning "high-ranking businessman" is 1902 in American English; hence the adjectival sense "stylish, luxurious, costly" (1970s). Executive privilege is attested by 1805, American English.
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