late 14c., "ability, opportunity, means, resources," from Old French faculte "skill, accomplishment, learning" (14c., Modern French faculté) and directly from Latin facultatem (nominative facultas) "power, ability, capability, opportunity; sufficient number, abundance, wealth," from *facli-tat-s, from facilis "easy to do," of persons, "pliant, courteous, yielding," from facere "to do" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put").
Academic sense "branch of knowledge" (late 14c.) was in Old French and probably was the earliest in English (it is attested in Anglo-Latin from late 12c.), on notion of "ability in knowledge" or "body of persons on whom are conferred specific professional powers." Originally each department was a faculty; the use in reference to the whole teaching staff of an entire college dates from 1767. Related: Facultative. The Latin words facultas and facilitas "were originally different forms of the same word; the latter, owing to its more obvious relationship to the adj., retained the primary sense of 'easiness', which the former had ceased to have before the classical period." [OED]
updated on May 01, 2017