press (n.)

c. 1300, presse, "a crowd, throng, company; crowding and jostling of a throng; a massing together," from Old French presse (n.) "a throng, a crush, a crowd; wine or cheese press" (11c.), from Latin pressare (see press (v.1)). Late Old English had press in the sense of "clothes press," but the Middle English word probably is from French.

The general sense of "instrument or machine by which anything is subjected to pressure" is from late 14c.: "device for pressing cloth," also "device to squeeze juice from grapes, oil from olives, cider from apples, etc." The sense of "urgency, urgent demands of affairs" is from 1640s. Weightlifting sense is from 1908. The basketball defense so called from 1959 (in full-court press). 

The specific sense "machine for printing" is from 1530s; this was extended to publishing houses and agencies of producing printed matter collectively by 1570s and to publishing generally (in phrases such as freedom of the press) from c. 1680. This gradually shifted c. 1800-1820 to "the sum total of periodical publishing, newspapers, journalism." The press, meaning "journalists collectively" is attested from 1921 (though superseded by media since the rise of television, etc.).

Press agent, employed to tend to newspaper advertisements and supply news editors with information, is from 1873, originally theatrical; press conference "meeting at which journalists are given the opportunity to question a politician, celebrity, etc.," is attested from 1931, though the thing itself dates to at least World War I. Press secretary is recorded from 1940; press release "official statement offered to a newspaper for publication" is by 1918.

Via the sense "crowd, throng," Middle English in press meant "in public," a coincidental parallel to the modern phrase in the press.

press (v.1)

early 14c., pressen, "to clasp, hold in embrace;" mid-14c. "to squeeze out;" also "to cluster, gather in a crowd;" late 14c., "to exert weight or force against, exert pressure," also "assault, assail;" also "forge ahead, push one's way, move forward," from Old French presser "squeeze, press upon; torture" (13c.), from Latin pressare "to press," frequentative formation from pressus, past participle of premere "to press, hold fast, cover, crowd, compress," from PIE root *per- (4) "to strike." Related: Pressed; pressing.

Sense of "to reduce to a particular shape or form by pressure" is from early 15c. Figurative sense is from late 14c. ("to attack"); meaning "to urge, beseech, argue for" is from 1590s. To press the flesh "shake hands" is by 1926.

press (v.2)

"force into service," especially military or naval service, 1570s, alteration (by association with press (v.1)) of prest (mid-14c.) "engage by loan, pay in advance," especially in reference to money paid to a soldier or sailor on enlisting, from Latin praestare "to stand out, stand before; fulfill, perform, provide," from prae- "before" (see pre-) + stare "to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm." The verb is related to praesto (adv.) "ready, available." Related: Pressed; pressing.

updated on October 27, 2020

Definitions of press from WordNet
press (v.)
exert pressure or force to or upon;
He pressed down on the boards
press your thumb on this spot
press (v.)
force or impel in an indicated direction;
Synonyms: urge / urge on / exhort
press (v.)
to be oppressive or burdensome;
Something pressed on his mind
Synonyms: weigh
press (v.)
place between two surfaces and apply weight or pressure;
pressed flowers
press (v.)
squeeze or press together;
press (v.)
crowd closely;
The crowds pressed along the street
press (v.)
create by pressing;
press (v.)
be urgent;
This is a pressing problem
press (v.)
exert oneself continuously, vigorously, or obtrusively to gain an end or engage in a crusade for a certain cause or person; be an advocate for;
Synonyms: crusade / fight / campaign / push / agitate
press (v.)
press from a plastic;
press a record
Synonyms: press out
press (v.)
make strenuous pushing movements during birth to expel the baby;
Synonyms: push
press (v.)
press and smooth with a heated iron;
press your shirts
Synonyms: iron / iron out
press (v.)
lift weights;
This guy can press 300 pounds
Synonyms: weight-lift / weightlift
press (v.)
ask for or request earnestly;
Synonyms: bid / beseech / entreat / adjure / conjure
press (n.)
the state of demanding notice or attention;
the press of business matters
Synonyms: imperativeness / insistence / insistency / pressure
press (n.)
the print media responsible for gathering and publishing news in the form of newspapers or magazines;
Synonyms: public press
press (n.)
a machine used for printing;
Synonyms: printing press
press (n.)
a dense crowd of people;
Synonyms: crush / jam
press (n.)
a tall piece of furniture that provides storage space for clothes; has a door and rails or hooks for hanging clothes;
Synonyms: wardrobe / closet
press (n.)
clamp to prevent wooden rackets from warping when not in use;
press (n.)
any machine that exerts pressure to form or shape or cut materials or extract liquids or compress solids;
Synonyms: mechanical press
press (n.)
a weightlift in which the barbell is lifted to shoulder height and then smoothly lifted overhead;
Synonyms: military press
press (n.)
the act of pressing; the exertion of pressure;
he gave the button a press
at the pressing of a button
Synonyms: pressure / pressing
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.