Word Origin & History
O.E. ordel, lit. "judgment, verdict," from P.Gmc. noun *uzdailjam (cf. O.Fris. urdel, Du. oordeel, Ger. urteil "judgment"), lit. "that which is dealt out" (by the gods), from *uzdailijan "share out," related to O.E. adælan "to deal out" (see deal
). The notion is of the
kind of arduous physical test (such as walking blindfolded and barefoot between red-hot plowshares) that was believed to determine a person's guilt or innocence by immediate judgment of the deity, an ancient Teutonic mode of trial. Eng. retains a more exact sense of the word; its cognates in Ger., etc., have been generalized. Curiously absent in M.E., and perhaps reborrowed 16c. from M.L. or M.Fr., which got it from Gmc. Metaphoric extension to "anything which tests character or endurance" is attested from 1658. The prefix or- survives in Eng. only in this word, but was common in O.E. and other Gmc. languages (Goth. ur-, O.N. or-, etc.) and was originally an adv. and prep. meaning "out."