Word Origin & History
O.E. sellan "to give," from P.Gmc. *saljanan (cf. O.N. selja "to hand over, deliver, sell;" O.Fris. sella, O.H.G. sellen "to give, hand over, sell;" Goth. saljan "to offer a sacrifice"), perhaps a causative form of the root of O.E. sala "sale." One of the first things a student of Old English has to
learn is that the word that looks like sell usually means "give." Meaning "to give up for money" had emerged by c.1000. An O.E. word for "to sell" was bebycgan, from bycgan "to buy." Slang meaning "to swindle" is from 1597. The noun phrase hard sell is recorded from 1952. To sell one's soul is from c.1570. Sell-by date is from 1972. To sell (someone) down the river is first recorded 1927, but probably from slavery days, on notion of sale from the Upper South to the cotton plantations of the Deep South (attested in this literal sense since 1851). To sell like hot cakes is from 1839.