Last week I took a look at the etymology of the word author (which you’d have thought I’d looked up long ago, right??), and I mentioned its interesting connection to the word authority…which is, of course, what we’re looking at today!
To be honest, I assumed that author came first, and that authority is a form that came afterward. And if you’re tracing it back to Latin, that’s the case. However, in English, authority actually entered the language at least 100 years, possibly as many as 150, before author did!
When it entered English, it was with the meaning of “authoritative passage or statement, book or quotation that settles an argument, passage from Scripture.” By around 1300, it meant “legal validity,” or else a trustworthy text or doctrine (as opposed to experience). It wasn’t until the mid-14th century that it took on the meaning of “right to rule or command, power to enforce obedience, power or right to command or act.” And then by around 1400, we get the meaning of “officially sanctioned.” Interestingly, it wasn’t until the early 1600s that people began using authority to simply mean “the person in authority” and not until the mid 1800s did it come to mean “the police.” I had no idea that last one was so new!