early 12c., from O.Fr. seinte, altering O.E. sanct,
both from L. sanctus "holy, consecrated" (used as a noun in L.L.), prop. pp. of sancire "consecrate" (see sacred).
Adopted into most Germanic languages (cf. O.Fris. sankt, Du. sint, Ger. Sanct). Originally an adj. prefixed to the name of a canonized person; by c.1300 it came to be regarded as a noun.
Saint - A dead sinner revised and edited. The Duchess of Orleans relates that the irreverent old calumniator, Marshal Villeroi, who in his youth had known St. Francis de Sales, said, on hearing him called saint: 'I am delighted to hear that Monsieur de Sales is a saint. He was fond of saying indelicate things, and used to cheat at cards. In other respects he was a perfect gentleman, though a fool.' [Ambrose Bierce, "Devil's Dictionary," 1911]
Meaning "person of extraordinary holiness" is recorded from 1563. The verb meaning "to enroll (someone) among the saints" is attested from late 14c. Applied widely to living things, diseases, objects and phenomena, e.g. Saint Bernard, the breed of mastiff dogs (1839), so called because they were used by the monks of the hospice of the pass of St. Bernard (between Italy and Switzerland) to rescue snowbound travelers; St. Elmo's Fire "corposant" (1560s) is from It. fuoco di Sant'Elmo, named for the patron saint of Mediterranean sailors, a corruption of the name of St. Erasmus, an Italian bishop martyred in 303.
c.1300, from pp. of obsolete verb sacren "to make holy" (early 13c.), from O.Fr. sacrer (12c.), from L. sacrare "to make sacred, consecrate,"
from sacer (gen. sacri) "sacred, dedicated, holy, accursed,"
from O.L. saceres,
which Tucker connects to base *saq- "bind, restrict, enclose, protect,"
explaining that "words for both 'oath' & 'curse' are regularly words of 'binding.'
" But Buck merely groups it with Oscan sakrim, Umbrian sacra and calls it "a distinctive Italic group, without any clear outside connections."
Nasalized form is sancire "make sacred, confirm, ratify, ordain."
Sacred cow "object of Hindu veneration," is from 1891;
figurative sense of "one who must not be criticized" is first recorded 1910, reflecting Western views of Hinduism.