a name of pointed instruments of various kinds, and also other noun senses, in most cases from pick (v.) but in some perhaps with some influence of pick (n.1). Meaning "a blow with a pointed instrument" is from mid-15c; the sense in toothpick is from late 15c. The meaning "plectrum for a guitar, lute, etc." is from 1895. As a type of basketball block, from 1951. The meaning "right of selection, first choice" is by 1772, hence "choicest part or example" (by 1858). Meaning "instrument for picking locks" is by 1890.
assimilated form of ad- "to, toward, before" before stems beginning in -t-; see ad-. In Old French and Middle English regularly reduced to a-, later restored.
c. 1200, "pointed iron tool for breaking up rock or ground," apparently a variant of pike (n.4).
Old English æt, from Proto-Germanic *at (source also of Old Norse, Gothic at, Old Frisian et, Old High German az), from PIE root *ad- "to, near, at." Lost in German and Dutch, which use their equivalent of to; in Scandinavian, however, to has been lost and at fills its place.
At is used to denote relations of so many kinds, and some of these so remote from its primary local sense, that a classification of its uses is very difficult. [OED]
In choosing between at church, in church, etc. at is properly distinguished from in or on by involving some practical connection; a worshipper is at church; a tourist is in the church. In 19c. it was used for points of the compass as regions of a country (at the South) where later tendency was to use in.
The colloquial use of at after where (as in where it's at) is noted in Bartlett (1859). At last is recorded from late 13c.; adverbial phrase at least was in use by 1775. At in Middle English was used freely with prepositions (as in at after, which is in Shakespeare), but this has faded with the exception of at about.
early 13c., picken "to peck;" c. 1300, piken "to work with a pick, to dig up," probably representing a fusion of Old English *pician "to prick," (implied by picung "a piercing, pricking," an 8c. gloss on Latin stigmata) with Old Norse pikka "to prick, peck," both from a Germanic root (source also of Middle Dutch picken, German picken "to pick, peck"), perhaps imitative. Influence from Middle French piquer "to prick, sting" (see pike (n.1)) also is possible, but that French word generally is not considered a source of the English word. Related: Picked; picking.
Meaning "to pluck with the hand or fingers, gather, break off, collect" (fruit, etc.) is from early 14c.; that of "to prick or pierce with a pointed instrument" also is from early 14c. The meaning "to choose, sort through carefully in search of valuable material" emerged late 14c., from the earlier meaning "to pluck with the fingers." The sense of "to rob, plunder" (c. 1300) weakened to a milder sense of "steal petty things, filch or pilfer from" by late 14c. Meaning "to eat with small bites" is from 1580s.
Of locks, etc., "probe or penetrate with a pointed tool," early 15c. The meaning "to pluck (a banjo, etc.) with the fingers" is recorded from 1860. To pick a quarrel, fight, etc. is from mid-15c.; to pick at "annoy with repeated fault-finding" is from 1670s. To pick on "single out for adverse attention" is from late 14c. Also see pick up.
To pick off "shoot one by one" is recorded from 1810; baseball sense, of a pitcher or catcher, "to put out a runner caught off base" is by 1939. To pick and choose "select carefully" is from 1660s (choose and pick is attested from c. 1400). To pick (one's) nose is by mid-15c.
"to select the very best selfishly," 1959 (implied in cherry-picking), American English (Billboard magazine), a pejorative figurative sense, from cherry (n.) + pick (v.). Related: Cherry-picked. Cherry-picker as a name for a crane with a bucket for raising and lowering persons (as to pick cherries from a tree) is by 1961; earlier it was the name of a type of railroad crane.
"baseball player's turn at the plate," 1912, originally a column heading in statistics tables, from the prepositional phrase.
"reception of visitors," 1745, noun use of prepositional phrase at home.
"in any way," mid-14c., originally used only affirmatively (as in I Samuel xx.6 in KJV: "If thy father at all misse me"); now it is overwhelmingly used only in the negative or in interrogatory expressions, formerly also in literary attempts at Irish dialect.