c. 1200, onur, "glory, renown, fame earned," from Anglo-French honour, Old French onor, honor "honor, dignity, distinction, position; victory, triumph" (Modern French honneur), from Latin honorem (nominative honos, the form used by Cicero, but later honor) "honor, dignity, office, reputation," which is of unknown origin. In Middle English, it also could mean "splendor, beauty; excellence." Until 17c., honour and honor were equally frequent; the former now preferred in England, the latter in U.S. by influence of Noah Webster. Meaning "feminine purity, a woman's chastity" first attested late 14c. Honor roll in the scholastic sense attested by 1872.
The initial h in honest, honor, etc., is merely etymological, the sound having already disappeared when the word came into ME use. [Century Dictionary]
It was a Latinate correction that began to be made in early Old French. From c. 1300 as "action of honoring or paying respect to; act or gesture displaying reverence or esteem; state or condition inspiring respect; nobleness of character or manners; high station or rank; a mark of respect or esteem; a source of glory, a cause of good reputation." Meaning "one's personal title to high respect or esteem" is from 1540s. Bartlett ("Dictionary of Americanisms," 1848) reports honor bright! as "A protestation of honor among the vulgar."
mid-13c., honuren, "to do honor to, show respect to," from Old French onorer, honorer "respect, esteem, revere; welcome; present" (someone with something), from Latin honorare "to honor," from honor "honor, dignity, office, reputation" (see honor (n.)). From c. 1300 as "confer honors on." From c. 1300 as "to respect, follow" (teachings, etc.). In the commercial sense of "accept a bill due, etc.," it is recorded from 1706, via the notion of "perform a duty of respect toward." Related: Honored; honoring.
A custom more honoured in the breach than the observance. Whoever will look up the passage (Hamlet I. iv. 16) will see that it means, beyond a doubt, a custom that one deserves more honour for breaking than for keeping: but it is often quoted in the wrong & very different sense of a dead letter or rule more often broken than kept. [Fowler]
updated on November 02, 2020