[17] District started life as the past participle of the verb which gave English distrain [13] and strain. It came via French district from medieval Latin districtus; this meant literally ‘seized, compelled’, and hence was used as a noun in the sense ‘seizure of offenders’, and hence ‘exercise of justice’, and finally ‘area in which justice is so exercised (in the feudal system)’. This was the word’s meaning when it was first borrowed into English, and it was not really until the early 18th century that its much more general modern application developed. Districtus was the past participle of Latin distringere, a compound verb formed from the prefix dis- ‘apart’ and stringere ‘pull tight’ (source of English strain, strict, stringent, stress, etc). In classical times it meant ‘draw apart, detain, hinder’, but by the Middle Ages this had moved on to ‘seize, compel’, which were the main senses in which it entered English as distrain (via Old French destreindre). Latin districtus was also the source of a Vulgar Latin noun *districtia ‘narrowness’, which passed via Old French destresse into English as distress [13]. => DISTRAIN, DISTRESS, STRAIN, STRESS, STRICT, STRINGENT

The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins. 2013.

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