1620s, "flat, thin tablet, with a hole at one end for the thumb, used by an artist to lay and mix colors," from French palette, from Old French palete "small shovel, blade" (13c.) diminutive of pale "shovel, blade," from Latin pala "spade, shoulder blade," probably from PIE *pag-slo-, suffixed form of root *pag- "to fasten." Transferred sense of "colors used by a particular artist" is from 1882. Palette-knife, originally one used by artists for mixing colors, is attested by 1759.
updated on December 16, 2019