late Old English plot "small piece of ground of defined shape," a word of unknown origin. The sense of "ground plan," and thus "map, chart, survey of a field, farm, etc." is from 1550s. Plat is a Middle English collateral form. The meaning "a secret, plan, fully formulated scheme" (usually to accomplish some evil purpose) is from 1580s, probably by accidental similarity to complot, from Old French complot "combined plan" (compare the sense evolution of plan), itself a word of unknown origin, perhaps a back-formation from compeloter "to roll into a ball," from pelote "ball." OED says "The usage probably became widely known in connexion with the 'Gunpowder Plot.' "
The meaning "set of events in a story, play, novel, etc." is from 1640s. Plot-line (n.) "main features of a story" is attested by 1940; earlier, in theater, "a sentence containing matter essential to the comprehension of the play's story" (1907).
1580s, "to make a map or diagram of, lay down on paper according to scale;" also "to lay plans for, conspire to effect or bring about" (usually with evil intent), from plot (n.). Intransitive sense of "to form a plan or device" is from c. 1600. Related: Plotted; plotter; plotting.
updated on August 31, 2020