Etymology Tuesday (just under the wire)

Here, from the Online Etymology Dictionary, are the histories of three words I just randomly picked out of my novel.

Caliber: 1560s, “degree of merit or importance,” from M.Fr. calibre (late 15c.), apparently ultimately from Arabic qalib “a mold for casting.” Arabic also used the word in the sense “mold for casting bullets,” which is the original literal meaning in English, though the earliest cited sense is a figurative one. Meaning “inside diameter of a gun barrel” is attested from 1580s. Barnhart remarks that Sp. calibre, It. calibro “appear too late to act as intermediate forms” between the Arabic word and the French.

Unique: c.1600, “single, solitary,” from Fr. unique, from L. unicus “single, sole,” from unus “one” (see one). Meaning “forming the only one of its kind” is attested from 1610s; erroneous sense of “remarkable, uncommon” is attested from mid-19c.

Orb: early 15c. (implied in orbicular), “sphere, globe,” also “emblem of sovereignty,” from O.Fr. orbe (13c.), from L. orbem (nom. orbis) “circle, disk, ring,” probably related to orbita“wheel track, rut,” of unknown origin. Some suggest a connection with the root of orchid.
A three-dimensional extension of a word originally describing two-dimensional shapes. Astronomical sense is from 1520s, in reference to the hollow spheres that carried the planets and stars in the Ptolemaic system. Orb weaver spider is first recorded 1889.

More words next week! T.T.F.N.


~ by lamichaud on August 21, 2012.

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