Entries linking to mainland
early 13c., "notably large, bulky, or strong" (a sense now obsolete), from Old English mægen- "power, strength, force," used in compounds (such as mægensibb "great love," mægenbyrðen "heavy burden;" see main (n.)), probably also in part from or influenced by cognate Old Norse megenn (adj.) "strong, powerful, mighty."
Sense of "chief, principal, prime" is from c. 1400. That of "principal or chief in size or extent" is from 1590s. Main chance "opportunity of enriching oneself" is by 1570s, from the game of hazard. Main course in the meal sense attested from 1829. Main man "favorite male friend; hero" is by 1967, African-American vernacular.
Old English lond, land, "ground, soil," also "definite portion of the earth's surface, home region of a person or a people, territory marked by political boundaries," from Proto-Germanic *landja- (source also of Old Norse, Old Frisian Dutch, Gothic land, German Land), perhaps from PIE *lendh- (2) "land, open land, heath" (source also of Old Irish land, Middle Welsh llan "an open space," Welsh llan "enclosure, church," Breton lann "heath," source of French lande; Old Church Slavonic ledina "waste land, heath," Czech lada "fallow land"). But Boutkan finds no IE etymology and suspects a substratum word in Germanic,
Etymological evidence and Gothic use indicates the original Germanic sense was "a definite portion of the earth's surface owned by an individual or home of a nation." The meaning was early extended to "solid surface of the earth," a sense which once had belonged to the ancestor of Modern English earth (n.). Original senses of land in English now tend to go with country. To take the lay of the land is a nautical expression. In the American English exclamation land's sakes (1846) land is a euphemism for Lord.
Old English mægen (Mercian megen) "power, bodily strength; force, violent effort; strength of mind or will; efficacy; supernatural power," from Proto-Germanic *maginam "power" (source also of Old High German megin "strength, power, ability"), suffixed form of PIE root *magh- "to be able, have power."
Original sense of "power" is preserved in phrase might and main. Also used in Middle English for "royal power or authority" (c. 1400), "military strength" (c. 1300), "application of force" (c. 1300). Meaning "chief or main part" (c. 1600) now is archaic or obsolete. Meaning "principal duct, pipe, or channel in a utility system" is first recorded 1727 in main drain.
Used since 1540s for "continuous stretch of land or water;" in nautical jargon used loosely for "the ocean," but in Spanish Main the word is short for mainland and refers to the coast between Panama and Orinoco (as contrasted to the islands of the West Indies).