Entries linking to subcontractor
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).
1540s, "one who enters into a contract," from Late Latin contractor "one who makes a contract," agent noun from past-participle stem of Latin contrahere "to draw several objects together; draw in, shorten, lessen, abridge," metaphorically "make a bargain, make an agreement," from assimilated form of com "with, together" (see con-) + trahere "to draw" (see tract (n.1)).
From 1680s as "a muscle which contracts a part." Specifically "one who enters into a contract to provide work, services, or goods at a certain price or rate" is from 1724.