early 14c., riban, ribane, from Anglo-French rubain, Old French riban "a ribbon," variant of ruban (13c.), a word of unknown origin, possibly from a Germanic compound whose second element is related to band (n.1); compare Middle Dutch ringhband "necklace."
The modern spelling is from mid-16c. Originally a stripe in a material; the sense of "narrow woven band of some find material" for ornamental or other purposes is by 1520s. The word was extended to other long, thin, flexible strips by 1763; the meaning "ink-soaked strip wound on a spool for use on a typewriter" is by 1883. A a torn strip of anything (fabric, clouds, etc.) by 1820. As a verb, "adorn with ribbons," by 1716. Related: Ribboned. The custom of wearing colored ribbon loops on the lapel to declare support for some group perceived as suffering or oppressed began in 1991 with AIDS red ribbons.
updated on August 15, 2021