late 14c., "meaning, signification, interpretation" (especially of Holy Scripture); c. 1400, "the faculty of perception;" from Old French sens "one of the five senses; meaning; wit, understanding" (12c.) and directly from Latin sensus "perception, feeling, undertaking, meaning," from sentire "perceive, feel, know."
This probably is a figurative use of a literal meaning "find one's way," or "go mentally." According to Watkins and others, this is from a PIE root *sent- "to go" (source also of Old High German sinnan "to go, travel, strive after, have in mind, perceive," German Sinn "sense, mind," Old English sið "way, journey," Old Irish set, Welsh hynt "way").
The application to any one of the external or outward senses (touch, sight, hearing, any special faculty of sensation connected with a bodily organ) in English is recorded from 1520s. They usually are reckoned as five; sometimes a "muscular sense" and "inner (common) sense" are added (perhaps to make the perfect seven), hence the old phrase the seven senses, sometimes meaning "consciousness in its totality." For the meaning "consciousness, mind generally," see senses.
The meaning "that which is wise, judicious, sensible, or intelligent" is from c. 1600. The meaning "capacity for perception and appreciation" also is from c. 1600 (as in sense of humor, attested by 1783, sense of shame, 1640s). The meaning "a vague consciousness or feeling" is from 1590s.
1590s, "perceive (an object) by the senses," from sense (n.). The meaning "be conscious inwardly of" (one's state or condition) is from 1680s. The sense of "perceive or understand (a fact or situation) not by direct perception" is from 1872. Related: Sensed; sensing.
updated on May 04, 2022