As a verb, "to play quarterback," by 1945. The figurative sense (the quarterback when on the field typically directed the team's plays) is from 1952. Monday morning quarterback is by 1932 as a noun, "second-guesser of other people's decisions, one who criticizes or passes judgment afterward on how something was done;" by 1972 as a verb; originally pro football player slang for sportswriters (U.S. professional football games typically were played on Sundays).
Entries linking to quarterback
c. 1300, "one-fourth of anything; one of four equal parts or divisions into which anything is or may be divided;" often in reference to the four parts into which a slaughtered animal is cut, from Old French quartier, cartier (12c.), from Latin quartarius "fourth part," from quartus "the fourth, fourth part" (related to quattuor "four," from PIE root *kwetwer- "four"). One of the earliest dated references in English is to "parts of the body as dismembered during execution" (c. 1300).
Used of the phases of the moon from early 15c. The phrase quarter of an hour is attested from mid-15c. In Middle English quarter also meant "one of the four divisions of a 12-hour night" (late 14c.), and the quarter of the night meant "nine o'clock p.m." (early 14c.). As a period of time in a football game, from 1911.
From late 14c. as "one of the four quadrants of the heavens;" hence, from the notion of the winds, "a side, a direction" (c. 1400). In heraldry from mid-14c. as "one of the four divisions of a shield or coat of arms."
Meaning "region, locality, area, place" is from c. 1400. Meaning "distinct portion of a town" (identified by the class or race of people who live there) is first attested 1520s. For military sense, see quarters.
The coin (one fourth of a dollar, originally silver) is peculiar to U.S. and dates to 1783. But quarter could mean "a farthing" (one quarter of a penny) in Middle English (late 14c.), and compare quadrant "a farthing" (c. 1600), and classical Latin quadrans, the name of a coin worth a quarter of an as (the basic unit of Roman currency).
Quarter horse, bred strong for racing on quarter-mile tracks, is recorded by 1834. The word's connection with "four" loosened in Middle English and by 15c. expressions such as six-quartered for "six-sided" are found.
Old English bæc "back," from Proto-Germanic *bakam (cognates: Old Saxon and Middle Dutch bak, Old Frisian bek), with no known connections outside Germanic. In other modern Germanic languages the cognates mostly have been ousted in this sense by words akin to Modern English ridge (such as Danish ryg, German Rücken).
Many Indo-European languages show signs of once having distinguished the horizontal back of an animal (or a mountain range) from the upright back of a human. In other cases, a modern word for "back" may come from a word related to "spine" (Italian schiena, Russian spina) or "shoulder, shoulder blade" (Spanish espalda, Polish plecy).
By synecdoche, "the whole body," especially with reference to clothing. Meaning "upright part of a chair" is from 1520s. To turn (one's) back on (someone or something) "ignore" is from early 14c. As a U.S. football position by 1876, so called from being behind the line of rushers; further distinguished according to relative position as quarterback, halfback, fullback.
To know (something) like the back of one's hand, implying familiarity, is first attested 1893 in a dismissive speech made to a character in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Catriona":
If I durst speak to herself, you may be certain I would never dream of trusting it to you; because I know you like the back of my hand, and all your blustering talk is that much wind to me.
The story, a sequel to "Kidnapped," has a Scottish setting and context, and the back of my hand to you was noted in the late 19th century as a Scottish expression meaning "I will have nothing to do with you" [see Longmuir's edition of Jamieson's Scottish dictionary]. In English generally, the back of (one's) hand has been used to imply contempt and rejection at least since 1300. Perhaps the connection of a menacing dismissal is what made Stevenson choose that particular anatomical reference.
It forms all or part of: cadre; cahier; carillon; carrefour; catty-cornered; diatessaron; escadrille; farthing; firkin; fortnight; forty; four; fourteen; fourth; quadrant; quadraphonic; quadratic; quadri-; quadrilateral; quadriliteral; quadrille; quadriplegia; quadrivium; quadroon; quadru-; quadruped; quadruple; quadruplicate; quarantine; quarrel (n.2) "square-headed bolt for a crossbow;" quarry (n.2) "open place where rocks are excavated;" quart; quarter; quarterback; quartermaster; quarters; quartet; quarto; quaternary; quatrain; quattrocento; quire (n.1) "set of four folded pages for a book;" squad; square; tessellated; tetra-; tetracycline; tetrad; tetragrammaton; tetrameter; tetrarch; trapezium.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit catvarah, Avestan čathwaro, Persian čatvar, Greek tessares, Latin quattuor, Oscan petora, Old Church Slavonic četyre, Lithuanian keturi, Old Irish cethir, Welsh pedwar.
updated on February 27, 2021
quarterback is the most important position on the team