The word "payroll" is a compound noun formed by the verb "pay" and the noun "roll." The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the first records of the use of the word "payroll" as a compound noun appeared around 1740 to describe the total amount of money paid to a company's employees over a period of time.

Etymology of Pay

The verb "pay" comes from the French verb "paier," which means to pay up, and the Latin verb "pacare." "Pacare" derives from "pacis," the Latin word for peace; it literally means to make peaceful, please or satisfy. In medieval Latin, the verb was used particularly in the sense of satisfying a creditor by paying your debt.

Etymology of Roll

The noun "roll" originates from the Old French noun "rolle," which signified a rolled up piece of parchment or paper. Roll also originates from the medieval Latin noun "rotulus," which means small wheel. The meaning of "roll" as a quantity of money is not linked to the origin of "payroll." The first time it was used in the sense of an amount of money was in 1846, a century after the use of "payroll" was first recorded.

Original Meaning

In its original meaning, payroll was used to refer to the total amount a business had to spend on paying its employees over a set amount of time, such as a week or month. For instance, if an 18th-century company spent $200 toward its employees' salary, its payroll would be $200. As the sophistication, complexity and automation of businesses' record-keeping developed, so did the meaning of "payroll."

Current Meaning

Since "payroll" entered the English language -- more than 150 years ago -- its meaning has expanded on the original sense of the word. While it still is used to signify the total sum necessary to pay a company's employees, this definition has become secondary to its main meaning: the list of all the employees in a company and how much payment each one is due. Payroll also has come to mean all the procedures companies must follow to ensure their workers are paid their salary, such as collecting workers' personal data, calculating their wage and deducting their taxes and health insurance payments.