Word Origin & History
"high in stature," 1520s, probably ultimately from O.E. getæl "prompt, active." Sense evolved to "brave, valiant, seemly, proper" (c.1400), then to "attractive, handsome" (mid-15c.), and finally "being of more than average height." The O.E. word is related to O.H.G. gi-zal "quick," Goth. un-tals
"indocile." Sense evolution is remarkable, but adjectives applied to persons often mutate quickly in meaning (e.g. pretty
, Ger. klein "small, little," which in M.H.G. meant the same as its English cognate clean
). Phrase tall, dark, and handsome is recorded from 1906.