Etymology
Advertisement

sell (v.)

Middle English sellen, from Old English sellan "to give (something to someone), furnish, supply, lend; surrender, give up; deliver to; promise," from Proto-Germanic *saljanan "offer up, deliver" (source also of Old Norse selja "to hand over, deliver, sell;" Old Frisian sella, Old High German sellen "to give, hand over, sell;" Gothic saljan "to offer a sacrifice"), ultimately from PIE root *sel- (3) "to take, grasp."

Meaning "to give up for money,  accept a price or reward for" had emerged by late Old English, but in Chaucer selle still can mean "to give." Students of Old English learn early that the word they encounter that looks like sell usually means "give." An Old English word for "to sell" was bebycgan, from bycgan "to buy."

The meaning "betray for gain" is from c. 1200. Slang meaning "to swindle" is from 1590s. To sell off "dispose of by sale, sell all of" is by 1700. To sell one's soul "make a contract with the devil," often figurative, is from c. 1570. Sell-by in reference to dates stamped on perishable packaged foods is from 1972. To sell like hot cakes is from 1839. To sell (someone) down the river figuratively is by 1927, probably from or with recollection of slavery days, on notion of sale from the Upper South to the cotton plantations of the Deep South (attested in this literal sense since 1851).

sell (n.)

1838, "a hoax or planned deception by which a victim is 'taken in,' " from sell (v.). The sense of "advertising technique" is attested by 1952 in the phrase hard sell.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Definitions of sell
1
sell (v.)
exchange or deliver for money or its equivalent;
He sold his house in January
She sells her body to survive and support her drug habit
sell (v.)
be sold at a certain price or in a certain way;
These books sell like hot cakes
sell (v.)
persuade somebody to accept something;
The French try to sell us their image as great lovers
sell (v.)
do business; offer for sale as for one's livelihood;
The brothers sell shoes
Synonyms: deal / trade
sell (v.)
give up for a price or reward;
She sold her principles for a successful career
sell (v.)
be approved of or gain acceptance;
The new idea sold well in certain circles
sell (v.)
be responsible for the sale of;
All her publicity sold the products
sell (v.)
deliver to an enemy by treachery;
Judas sold Jesus
Synonyms: betray
2
sell (n.)
the activity of persuading someone to buy;
it was a hard sell
From wordnet.princeton.edu