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early 14c., "body of men associated by common interest," from Old French fraternité (12c.), from Latin fraternitatem (nominative fraternitas) "brotherhood," from fraternus "brotherly," from frater "brother," from PIE *bhrater (see brother). Meaning "state or condition of being as brothers" is from late 15c. College Greek-letter organization sense is from 1777, first in reference to Phi Beta Kappa.