also metre, "poetic measure, metrical scheme, arrangement of language in a series of rhythmic movements," Old English meter "meter, versification," from Latin mētrum, from Greek metron "meter, a verse; that by which anything is measured; measure, length, size, limit, proportion" (from PIE root *me- (2) "to measure").
The word was possibly reborrowed early 14c. (after a 300-year gap in recorded use), from Old French metre, with a specific sense of "metrical scheme in verse," from Latin mētrum.
In the first place, observe, that all great poets intend their work to be read by simple people, and expect no help in it from them ; but intend only to give them help, in expressing what otherwise they could never have found words for. Therefore a true master poet invariably calculates on his verse being first read as prose would be ; and on the reader's being pleasantly surprised by finding that he has fallen unawares into music. [Ruskin, "Elements of English Prosody, for use in St. George's Schools," 1880]
also metre, "fundamental unit of length of the metric system," originally intended to be one ten-millionth of the length of a quadrant of the meridian, 1797, from French mètre (18c.), from Greek metron "measure," from PIE root *me- (2) "to measure." Developed by French Academy of Sciences for system of weights and measures based on a decimal system originated 1670 by French clergyman Gabriel Mouton.
"device or instrument for measuring," abstracted 1832 from gasometer (in English from 1790), etc., from French -mètre, used in combinations, from Latin metrum "measure" or cognate Greek metron "measure" (from PIE root *me- (2) "to measure").
English already had meter "person who measures, official who checks that measured quantities are correct" (late 14c., c. 1300 as a surname, agent noun from unrelated mete (v.)), which might have influenced this word. As short for parking meter from 1960. Meter maid "woman police official who patrols metered parking sites" is recorded by 1957, meter reader as a job is by 1872 (originally in reference to gas meters).
updated on July 11, 2021