In golf, being below par is a good thing, so why is being subpar a bad thing? To answer this, let's go back to the Latin adjective par, which meant "equal" or "even". This was borrowed into Old French in the 1200s and then was first used in English in 1601 as an economic term referring to the rate of exchange of a currency between two countries. Throughout the centuries, it took on the meaning of "average", which was used in both of the previous examples, just in different ways. It could also mean "equal" or "normal", as in the case of par for the course. Finally, Latin par has an uncertain derivation. Some theorize that it comes from Proto-Indo-European perh, meaning "exchange", but sound change rules don't work for that, so it's also possible it might not be Indo-European at all.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.