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1540s, from Italian (Venetian) gondola, earlier in English as goundel, from Old Italian gondula, of unknown origin; perhaps from Rhaeto-Romanic dialectal gondola "roll, rock," or perhaps a diminutive of gonda, name of a kind of boat. Meaning "cabin of an airship" is 1896, though it was used hypothetically in 1881 in a prediction piece titled "300 Years Hence":
You step into an aerial gondola ... and are at once borne upwards.