deer (n.)
Old English deor "animal, beast," from Proto-Germanic *deuzam, the general Germanic word for "animal" (as opposed to man), but often restricted to "wild animal" (cognates: Old Frisian diar, Dutch dier, Old Norse dyr, Old High German tior, German Tier "animal," Gothic dius "wild animal," also see reindeer), from PIE *dheusom "creature that breathes," from root *dheu- (1) "cloud, breath" (cognates: Lithuanian dusti "gasp," dvesti "gasp, perish;" Old Church Slavonic dychati "breathe").

For prehistoric sense development, compare Latin animal from anima "breath"). Sense specialization to a specific animal began in Old English (usual Old English for what we now call a deer was heorot; see hart), common by 15c., now complete. Probably via hunting, deer being the favorite animal of the chase (compare Sanskrit mrga- "wild animal," used especially for "deer"). Deer-lick is first attested 1778, in an American context.