c. 1200, "tax-gatherer," from Old French publician (12c.), from Latin publicanus "a tax collector," noun use of an adjective, "pertaining to public revenue," from publicum "public revenue," noun use of neuter of publicus (see public (adj.)). Original sense in Matthew xviii.17, etc.; meaning "keeper of a pub" first recorded 1728, from public (house) + -an.
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