c. 1500, paragraf, "a distinct part of writing or discourse relating to a particular point," also "paragraph mark, the symbol used to mark commencement of a new section of writing" ( ¶ ), from Old French paragrafe (13c.), from Medieval Latin paragraphus "sign indicating the start of a new section of a discourse" (the sign looks something like a stylized letter -P- and a version of it still is used in copy-editing), from Greek paragraphos "short stroke below the beginning of a line marking a break in sense," also "a passage so marked," literally "anything written beside," from paragraphein "write by the side," from para- "beside" (see para- (1)) + graphein "to write" (see -graphy).
The sense shifted from the mark to the thing itself. The marks still were used in printed material into 17c., but now a paragraph is usually indicated by beginning on a new line with an indented letter. The word is earlier in English in the contracted form paraf (late 14c.), from Medieval Latin paraffus and Old French forms. In 16c. the spelling was re-Latinized in English and French.
updated on June 11, 2020