Entries linking to subclass
word-forming element meaning "under, beneath; behind; from under; resulting from further division," from Latin preposition sub "under, below, beneath, at the foot of," also "close to, up to, towards;" of time, "within, during;" figuratively "subject to, in the power of;" also "a little, somewhat" (as in sub-horridus "somewhat rough"), from PIE *(s)up- (perhaps representing *ex-upo-), a variant form of the root *upo "under," also "up from under." The Latin word also was used as a prefix and in various combinations.
In Latin assimilated to following -c-, -f-, -g-, -p-, and often -r- and -m-. In Old French the prefix appears in the full Latin form only "in learned adoptions of old Latin compounds" [OED], and in popular use it was represented by sous-, sou-; as in French souvenir from Latin subvenire, souscrire (Old French souzescrire) from subscribere, etc.
The original meaning is now obscured in many words from Latin (suggest, suspect, subject, etc.). The prefix is active in Modern English, sometimes meaning "subordinate" (as in subcontractor); "inferior" (17c., as in subhuman); "smaller" (18c.); "a part or division of" (c. 1800, as in subcontinent).
c. 1600, "group of students," in U.S. especially "number of pupils in a school or college of the same grade," from French classe (14c.), from Latin classis "a class, a division; army, fleet," especially "any one of the six orders into which Servius Tullius divided the Roman people for the purpose of taxation;" traditionally originally "the people of Rome under arms" (a sense attested in English from 1650s), and thus akin to calare "to call (to arms)," from PIE root *kele- (2) "to shout." In early use in English also in Latin form classis.
Meaning "an order or rank of persons, a number of persons having certain characteristics in common" is from 1660s. School and university sense of "course, lecture" (1650s) is from the notion of a form or lecture reserved to scholars who had attained a certain level. Natural history sense "group of related plants or animals" is from 1753. Meaning "high quality" is from 1874. Meaning "a division of society according to status" (with upper, lower, etc.) is from 1763. Class-consciousness (1903) is from German Klassenbewusst.
The fault, the evil, in a class society is when privilege exists without responsibility and duty. The evil of the classless society is that it tends to equalize the responsibility, to atomize it into responsibility of the whole population—and therefore everyone becomes equally irresponsible. [T.S. Eliot, BBC interview with Leslie Paul, 1958]
updated on May 07, 2014