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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.
Of things, "remain in place," 1590s. Stay put is first recorded 1843, American English. "To stay put is to keep still, remain in order. A vulgar expression" [Bartlett]. Phrase stay the course is originally (1885) in reference to horses holding out till the end of a race. Stay-stomach was (1800) "a snack."