c. 1300, naturel, "of one's inborn character; hereditary, innate, by birth or as if by birth;" early 14c. "of the world of nature (especially as opposed to man)," from Old French naturel "of nature, conforming to nature; by birth," and directly from Latin naturalis "by birth, according to nature," from natura "nature" (see nature).
Of events, features, etc., "existing in nature as a result of natural forces" (that is, not caused by accident, human agency, or divine intervention), late 14c. From late 14c. of properties, traits, qualities, "proper, suitable, appropriate to character or constitution;" from late 15c. as "native, native-born." Also late 15c. as "not miraculous, in conformity with nature," hence "easy, free from affectation" (c. 1600). Of objects or substances, "not artificially cultivated or created, existing in nature" c. 1400. As a euphemism for "illegitimate, bastard" (of children), it is recorded from c. 1400, on the notion of blood kinship (but not legal status).
Natural science, that pertaining to physical nature, is from late 14c.; natural history meaning more or less the same thing is from 1560s (see history). Natural law "the expression of right reason or the dictate of religion inhering in nature and man and having ethically binding force as a rule of civil conduct" is from late 14c. Natural order "apparent order in nature" is from 1690s. Natural childbirth is attested by 1898. Natural life, usually in reference to the duration of life, is from mid-15c.; natural death, one without violence or accident, is from mid-15c. To die of natural causes is from 1570s.
"person with a natural gift or talent," 1925, originally in prizefighting, from natural (adj.). But an older sense is almost opposite to this, "half-wit, idiot" (one "naturally deficient" in intellect), which was in use 16c. to 19c. In Middle English, the word as a noun meant "natural capacity, physical ability or power" (early 14c.), and it was common in sense "a native of a place" in Shakespeare's day. Also in 17c., "a mistress."
updated on May 12, 2019