early 13c., "freed from dregs or lees" (of ale, wine, etc.), probably literally "having stood long enough to clear," ultimately from PIE root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm;" probably via Old French estal "placed, fixed position," from Frankish *stal- "position" (see stall (n.1)).
Cognate with Middle Dutch stel "stale" (of beer and old urine). Originally a desirable quality (in beer and wine); the meaning "not fresh" is first recorded late 15c. Figurative sense (of immaterial things) "old and trite, hackneyed" is recorded from 1560s. As a noun, "that which has become tasteless by exposure," hence "a prostitute" (in Shakespeare, etc.). Related: Staleness.
mid-15c., from stale (adj.). Related: Staled; staling.
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