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reference (n.)

1580s, "act of referring" (some matter, to someone for consideration), from refer + -ance, or else from French référence, from Medieval Latin *referentia, from Latin referentem (nominative referens), present participle of referre.

Meaning "direction to a book or passage" where certain information may be found is recorded from 1610s. By 1837 as "one who or that which may be referred to." The meaning "testimonial" is from 1895. Reference book , a dictionary, encyclopedia, or similar book intended to be consulted as occasion requires, dates from 1808; reference library is by 1834. Phrase in reference to is attested from 1590s. "By slipshod extension, the word is often now made to mean a person to whom r[eference] is permitted as a witness to character, & even a written testimonial" [Fowler, 1926]. The earlier word for "one who gives characters for people seeking employment" was referee (1862) but this word had a bad savor, of literate accomplices of professional beggars and thieves.

reference (v.)

1620s, "to assign;" as "to provide a reference to, find by reference," from 1837 (implied in referenced); from reference (n.). Related: Referencing.

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Definitions of reference from WordNet
1
reference (n.)
a remark that calls attention to something or someone;
the speaker made several references to his wife
Synonyms: mention
reference (n.)
a short note recognizing a source of information or of a quoted passage;
reference (n.)
an indicator that orients you generally;
it is used as a reference for comparing the heating and the electrical energy involved
Synonyms: reference point / point of reference
reference (n.)
a book to which you can refer for authoritative facts;
he contributed articles to the basic reference work on that topic
Synonyms: reference book / reference work / book of facts
reference (n.)
a formal recommendation by a former employer to a potential future employer describing the person's qualifications and dependability;
requests for character references are all too often answered evasively
Synonyms: character / character reference
reference (n.)
the most direct or specific meaning of a word or expression; the class of objects that an expression refers to;
Synonyms: denotation / extension
reference (n.)
the act of referring or consulting;
reference to an encyclopedia produced the answer
Synonyms: consultation
reference (n.)
a publication (or a passage from a publication) that is referred to;
he carried an armful of references back to his desk
Synonyms: source
reference (n.)
(computer science) the code that identifies where a piece of information is stored;
Synonyms: address / computer address
reference (n.)
the relation between a word or phrase and the object or idea it refers to;
he argued that reference is a consequence of conditioned reflexes
2
reference (v.)
refer to;
he referenced his colleagues' work
Synonyms: cite
From wordnet.princeton.edu