Etymology
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special (adj.)

c. 1200, "given or granted in unusual circumstances, exceptional;" also "specific" as opposed to general or common; from Old French special, especial "special, particular, unusual" (12c., Modern French spécial) and directly from Latin specialis "individual, particular" (source also of Spanish especial, Italian speziale), from species "appearance, kind, sort" (see species).

Meaning "marked off from others by some distinguishing quality; dear, favored" is recorded from c. 1300. Also from c. 1300 is the sense of "selected for an important task; specially chosen." From mid-14c. as "extraordinary, distinguished, having a distinctive character," on the notion of "used for special occasions;" hence "excellent; precious."

From late 14c. as "individual, particular; characteristic." The meaning "limited as to function, operation, or purpose" is from 14c., but developed especially in the 19c. Special effects first attested 1951. Special interest in U.S. political sense is from 1910. Special pleading is recorded by 1680s, a term that had a sound legal meaning once but now is used generally and imprecisely. Special education in reference to those whose learning is impeded by some mental or physical handicap is from 1972.

Special pleading. (a) The allegation of special or new matter, as distinguished from a direct denial of matter previously alleged on the other side. ... (c) In popular use, the specious but unsound or unfair argumentation of one whose aim is victory rather than truth. [Century Dictionary]

special (n.)

"sweetheart, lover; special person or thing," c. 1300, from special (adj.) or from noun use of the adjective in Old French. Meaning "special train" is attested from 1866.

updated on July 09, 2020

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Definitions of special from WordNet
1
special (adj.)
surpassing what is common or usual or expected;
a special reason to confide in her
what's so special about the year 2000?
a special occasion
special (adj.)
unique or specific to a person or thing or category;
the special features of a computer
my own special chair
Synonyms: particular / peculiar
special (adj.)
for a special service or occasion;
a special correspondent
a special adviser to the committee
had to get special permission for the event
special (adj.)
adapted to or reserved for a particular purpose;
a special kind of paint
a special medication for arthritis
special (adj.)
having a specific function or scope;
a special (or specific) role in the mission
Synonyms: limited
special (adj.)
first and most important;
she gets special (or particular) satisfaction from her volunteer work
his special interest is music
Synonyms: particular
special (adj.)
added to a regular schedule;
a special holiday flight
put on special buses for the big game
Synonyms: extra
2
special (n.)
a special offering (usually temporary and at a reduced price) that is featured in advertising;
they are having a special on pork chops
special (n.)
a dish or meal given prominence in e.g. a restaurant;
special (n.)
a television production that features a particular person or work or topic;
the last of a series of BBC specials on Iran is being shown tonight
Etymologies are not definitions. From wordnet.princeton.edu, not affiliated with etymonline.