c. 1300, "to touch, to handle," from Old French taster "to taste, sample by mouth; enjoy" (13c.), earlier "to feel, touch, pat, stroke" (12c., Modern French tâter), from Vulgar Latin *tastare, apparently an alteration (perhaps by influence of gustare) of taxtare, a frequentative form of Latin taxare "evaluate, handle" (see tax (v.)). Meaning "to take a little food or drink" is from c. 1300; that of "to perceive by sense of taste" is recorded from mid-14c. Of substances, "to have a certain taste or flavor," it is attested from 1550s (replaced native smack (v.3) in this sense). Another PIE root in this sense was *geus- "to taste; to choose."
The Hindus recognized six principal varieties of taste with sixty-three possible mixtures ... the Greeks eight .... These included the four that are now regarded as fundamental, namely 'sweet,' 'bitter,' 'acid,' 'salt.' ... The others were 'pungent' (Gk. drimys, Skt. katuka-), 'astringent' (Gk. stryphnos, Skt. kasaya-), and, for the Greeks, 'rough, harsh' (austeros), 'oily, greasy' (liparos), with the occasional addition of 'winy' (oinodes). [Carl Darling Buck, "A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages," 1949]
Sense of "to know by experience" is from 1520s. Related: Tasted; tasting. Taste buds is from 1879; also taste goblets.
early 14c., "act of tasting," from Old French tast "sense of touch" (Modern French tât), from taster (see taste (v.)). From late 14c. as "a small portion given;" also "faculty or sense by which the flavor of a thing is discerned;" also "savor, sapidity, flavor."
Meaning "aesthetic judgment, faculty of discerning and appreciating what is excellent" is first attested 1670s (compare French goût, German geschmack, Russian vkus, etc.).
Of all the five senses, 'taste' is the one most closely associated with fine discrimination, hence the familiar secondary uses of words for 'taste, good taste' with reference to aesthetic appreciation. [Buck]
Taste is active, deciding, choosing, changing, arranging, etc.; sensibility is passive, the power to feel, susceptibility of impression, as from the beautiful. [Century Dictionary]
updated on September 25, 2018