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c.1400, "to cultivate land," also "to hold property," from Anglo-French meynoverer, Old French manouvrer "to work with the hands, cultivate; carry out; make, produce," from Medieval Latin manuoperare (see maneuver (n.)). Sense of "work the earth" led to "put dung on the soil" (1590s) and to the current noun meaning "dung spread as fertilizer," which is first attested 1540s. Until late 18c., however, the verb still was used in a figurative sense of "to cultivate the mind, train the mental powers."
It is ... his own painfull study ... that manures and improves his ministeriall gifts. [Milton, 1641]Related: Manured; manuring.
"dung or compost used as fertilizer," 1540s, see manure (v.).