early 13c., "of or pertaining to the head," from Old French capital, from Latin capitalis "of the head," hence "capital, chief, first," from caput (genitive capitis) "head" (see capitulum). Meaning "main, principal, chief, dominant, most important" is from early 15c. in English.
A capital crime (1520s) is one that affects the life or "head;" capital had a sense of "deadly, mortal" from late 14c. in English, a sense also found in Latin. The felt connection between "head" and "life, mortality" also existed in Old English: as in heafodgilt "deadly sin, capital offense," heafdes þolian "to forfeit life." Capital punishment was in Blackstone (1765) and classical Latin capitis poena. Capital gain is recorded from 1921. Capital goods is recorded from 1899."
released October 26, 2014
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