"light, flippant banter; an ironical or frivolous treatment of a subject," 1757, from French persiflage, from persifler "to banter" (18c.), from Latin per "through" (from PIE root *per- (1) "forward," hence "through") + French siffler "to whistle, hiss," from collateral form of Latin sibilare "to hiss," which possibly is of imitative origin. Said to have been introduced in English by Chesterfield.
"to raise frivolous objections, find fault without good reason," 1540s, from French caviller "to mock, jest," from Latin cavillari "to jeer, mock; satirize, argue scoffingly" (also source of Italian cavillare, Spanish cavilar), from cavilla "jest, jeering," which is related to calumnia "slander, false accusation" (see calumny). Related: Caviller, cavilling.
1902, of uncertain origin, possibly from German Fink "a frivolous or dissolute person," originally "a finch" (see finch); the German word also had a sense of "informer" (compare stool pigeon). The other theory traces it to Pinks, short for Pinkerton agents, the private police force hired to break up the 1892 Homestead strike. As a verb, 1925 in American English slang. Related: Finked; finking.
1916, "stupid person," American English, perhaps a variant of English dialect goff "foolish clown" (1869), from 16c. goffe, probably from French goffe "awkward, stupid," which is of uncertain origin. Or English goffe may be from Middle English goffen "speak in a frivolous manner," which is possibly from Old English gegaf "buffoonery," and gaffetung "scolding." Sense of "a blunder" is c. 1954, probably influenced by gaffe. Also compare goofer, goopher which appears in representations of African-American dialect from 1887 in the sense of "a curse, spell," probably from an African word.
"gad about, spend time in frivolous pleasure-seeking, especially with the opposite sex," 1809, of uncertain origin, perhaps a playful elaboration of gallant in an obsolete verbal sense of "play the gallant, flirt, gad about." Related: Gallivanted; gallivanting.
Young Lobski said to his ugly wife,
"I'm off till to-morrow to fish, my life;"
Says Mrs. Lobski, "I'm sure you a'nt",
But you brute you are going to gallivant."
What Mrs. Lobski said was right,
Gay Mr. Lobski was out all night.
He ne'er went to fish, 'tis known very well
But where he went I shall not tell.
["Songs from the Exile," in "Literary Panorama," London, 1809]
"not heavy, having little actual weight," from Old English leoht (West Saxon), leht (Anglian), "not heavy, light in weight; lightly constructed; easy to do, trifling; quick, agile," also of food, sleep, etc., from Proto-Germanic *lingkhtaz (source also of Old Norse lettr, Swedish lätt, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch licht, German leicht, Gothic leihts), from PIE root *legwh- "not heavy, having little weight." The adverb is Old English leohte, from the adjective.
Meaning "frivolous" is from early 13c.; that of "unchaste" from late 14c., both from the notion of "lacking moral gravity" (compare levity). Of literature from 1590s. Light industry (1919) makes use of relatively lightweight materials. The notion in make light of (1520s) is "unimportance." Alternative spelling lite, the darling of advertisers, is first recorded 1962. Light horse "light armed cavalry" is from 1530s. Light-skirts "woman of easy virtue" is attested from 1590s. Lighter-than-air (adj.) is from 1887.
Old English cracian "make a sharp noise, give forth a loud, abrupt sound," from Proto-Germanic *krakojan (source also of Middle Dutch craken, Dutch kraken, German krachen); the whole group is probably ultimately imitative. Related: Cracked; cracking.
From c. 1300 as "to burst, split open" (intransitive), also transitive, "to cause to break into chinks." From 1785 as "break or crush into small pieces." Of the voice, "change tone suddenly," as that of a youth passing into manhood, c. 1600. Meaning "to open and drink" (a bottle) is from 16c.
From early 14c. as "to utter, say, speak, talk freely," especially "speak loudly or boastingly" (late 14c.). To crack a smile is from 1835, American English; to crack a joke is by 1732, probably from the "speak, say" sense. To crack the whip in the figurative sense is from 1886. Get cracking "go to work, start doing what is to be done" is by 1937.
What is a crack in English? A chat! The synonym is as perfect as possible; yet the words are subtly distinguished by a whole hemisphere of feeling. A chat, by comparison "wi' a crack," is a poor, frivolous, shallow, altogether heartless business. A crack is, indeed, only adequately to be defined as a chat with a good, kindly, human heart in it .... [P.P. Alexander, notes to "Last Leaves," Edinburgh, 1869]
late 13c., "foolish, ignorant, frivolous, senseless," from Old French nice (12c.) "careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish," from Latin nescius "ignorant, unaware," literally "not-knowing," from ne- "not" (from PIE root *ne- "not") + stem of scire "to know" (see science). "The sense development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] — from "timid, faint-hearted" (pre-1300); to "fussy, fastidious" (late 14c.); to "dainty, delicate" (c. 1400); to "precise, careful" (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to "agreeable, delightful" (1769); to "kind, thoughtful" (1830).
In many examples from the 16th and 17th centuries it is difficult to say in what particular sense the writer intended it to be taken. [OED]
By 1926, it was said to be "too great a favorite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness." [Fowler]
"I am sure," cried Catherine, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?" "Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything." [Jane Austen, "Northanger Abbey," 1803]