early 15c., indenten, endenten "to make notches; to give (something) a toothed or jagged appearance," also "to make a legal indenture, make a written formal agreement or contract," from Old French endenter "to notch or dent, give a serrated edge to" (12c.) and directly from Medieval Latin indentare "to furnish with teeth," from in- "into, in, on, upon" (from PIE root *en "in") + verb from Latin dens (genitive dentis) "tooth" (from PIE root *dent- "tooth").
An indented document was usually, if not always, written in two or more identical versions. Orig. these were written on a single sheet of parchment and then cut apart along a zigzag, or 'indented' line. Each party to the agreement retained one copy, which he could readily authenticate by matching its serrate edge with that of another copy. [Middle English Compendium]
The printing sense "insert white space to force text inward" is first attested 1670s. Related: Indented (late 14c.); indenting.
"cut or notch in a margin," 1590s, from indent (v.1). A supposed earlier noun sense of "a written agreement" (late 15c.) is described in The Middle English Compendium as "scribal abbrev. of endenture."
updated on October 08, 2022
Dictionary entries near indent