mid-13c., "animating or vital principle in man and animals," from Anglo-French spirit, Old French espirit "spirit, soul" (12c., Modern French esprit) and directly from Latin spiritus "a breathing (respiration, and of the wind), breath; breath of a god," hence "inspiration; breath of life," hence "life;" also "disposition, character; high spirit, vigor, courage; pride, arrogance," related to spirare "to breathe," perhaps from PIE *(s)peis- "to blow" (source also of Old Church Slavonic pisto "to play on the flute"). But de Vaan says "Possibly an onomatopoeic formation imitating the sound of breathing. There are no direct cognates."
Meaning "supernatural immaterial creature; angel, demon; an apparition, invisible corporeal being of an airy nature" is attested from mid-14c.; from late 14c. as "a ghost" (see ghost (n.)). From c. 1500 as "a nature, character"; sense of "essential principle of something" (in a non-theological context, as in Spirit of St. Louis) is attested from 1680s, common after 1800; Spirit of '76 in reference to the qualities that sparked and sustained the American Revolution is attested by 1797 in William Cobbett's "Porcupine's Gazette and Daily Advertiser."
From late 14c. in alchemy as "volatile substance; distillate;" from c. 1500 as "substance capable of uniting the fixed and the volatile elements of the philosopher's stone." Hence spirits "volatile substance;" sense narrowed to "strong alcoholic liquor" by 1670s. This also is the sense in spirit level (1768). Also from mid-14c. as "character, disposition; way of thinking and feeling, state of mind; source of a human desire;" in Middle English freedom of spirit meant "freedom of choice." From late 14c. as "divine substance, divine mind, God;" also "Christ" or His divine nature; "the Holy Ghost; divine power;" also, "extension of divine power to man; inspiration, a charismatic state; charismatic power, especially of prophecy." Also "essential nature, essential quality." From 1580s in metaphoric sense "animation, vitality."
According to Barnhart and OED, originally in English mainly from passages in Vulgate, where the Latin word translates Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruah. Distinction between "soul" and "spirit" (as "seat of emotions") became current in Christian terminology (such as Greek psykhe vs. pneuma, Latin anima vs. spiritus) but "is without significance for earlier periods" [Buck]. Latin spiritus, usually in classical Latin "breath," replaces animus in the sense "spirit" in the imperial period and appears in Christian writings as the usual equivalent of Greek pneuma. Spirit-rapping is from 1852.
Old English fyr "fire, a fire," from Proto-Germanic *fūr- (source also of Old Saxon fiur, Old Frisian fiur, Old Norse fürr, Middle Dutch and Dutch vuur, Old High German fiur, German Feuer "fire"), from PIE *perjos, from root *paewr- "fire." Current spelling is attested as early as 1200, but did not fully displace Middle English fier (preserved in fiery) until c. 1600.
PIE apparently had two roots for fire: *paewr- and *egni- (source of Latin ignis). The former was "inanimate," referring to fire as a substance, and the latter was "animate," referring to it as a living force (compare water (n.1)).
Brend child fuir fordredeþ ["The Proverbs of Hendyng," c. 1250]
English fire was applied to "ardent, burning" passions or feelings from mid-14c. Meaning "discharge of firearms, action of guns, etc." is from 1580s. To be on fire is from c. 1500 (in fire attested from c. 1400, as is on a flame "on fire"). To play with fire in the figurative sense "risk disaster, meddle carelessly or ignorantly with a dangerous matter" is by 1861, from the common warning to children. Phrase where's the fire?, said to one in an obvious hurry, is by 1917, American English.
Fire-bell is from 1620s; fire-alarm as a self-acting, mechanical device is from 1808 as a theoretical creation; practical versions began to appear in the early 1830s. Fire-escape (n.) is from 1788 (the original so-called was a sort of rope-ladder disguised as a small settee); fire-extinguisher is from 1826. A fire-bucket (1580s) carries water to a fire. Fire-house is from 1899; fire-hall from 1867, fire-station from 1828. Fire company "men for managing a fire-engine" is from 1744, American English. Fire brigade "firefighters organized in a body in a particular place" is from 1838. Fire department, usually a branch of local government, is from 1805. Fire-chief is from 1877; fire-ranger from 1887.
Symbolic fire and the sword is by c. 1600 (translating Latin flamma ferroque absumi); earlier yron and fyre (1560s), with suerd & flawme (mid-15c.), mid fure & mid here ("with fire and armed force"), c. 1200. Fire-breathing is from 1590s. To set the river on fire, "accomplish something surprising or remarkable" (usually with a negative and said of one considered foolish or incompetent) is by 1830, often with the name of a river, varying according to locality, but the original is set the Thames on fire (1796). The hypothetical feat was mentioned as the type of something impossibly difficult by 1720; it circulated as a theoretical possibility under some current models of chemistry c. 1792-95, which may have contributed to the rise of the expression.
[A]mong other fanciful modes of demonstrating the practicability of conducting the gas wherever it might be required, he anchored a small boat in the stream about 50 yards from the shore, to which he conveyed a pipe, having the end turned up so as to rise above the water, and forcing the gas through the pipe, lighted it just above the surface, observing to his friends "that he had now set the river on fire." ["On the Origins and Progress of Gas-lighting," in "Repertory of Patent Inventions," vol. III, London, 1827]
by 1830, "to cheat, deceive," in an English collection of Irish songs, and also used, punningly, in the lines of an Englishman character in a "grand dramatic melodrama" set in India: "There, thanks to my canoe—we've canoodled those Bramins nicely, and effected a clear retreat to my retreat here." ["The Cataract of the Ganges, or The Rajah's Daughter" by W.T. Moncrieff].
It is used in New Orleans by 1843, also as a noun, "hanky-panky, illicit procedure." After 1848, canoodling or cahoodling turns up in Southern U.S. newspapers with a sense of "political manipulation, back-room deals:
The truth is, while cahoodling at the top of his bent for Taylor, to the friends of the other candidates he professed unalterable devotion to the fortunes of the favorite of each." [North Carolina Standard (Raleigh), June 28, 1848, in an account of political doings from Washington]
Very clever canoodling, this! [North Carolina Times (Raleigh), July 1, 1848, in reference to the sectional wrangling over the Wilmot Proviso.]
Canoodling is frequent in certain North Carolina papers through the 1870s. The Standard (July 12, 1866) writes of cohooting and canoodling.
The Washington (D.C.) Evening Star also used it often from 1854, in columns widely reprinted in the Southern press, but as cahoodling, also, at least once cohoodling [Sept. 29, 1858]. It defines "the cahoodling line" as "those in Washington interested in securing places at a distance for their respective friends" [Sept. 9, 1854].
The word seemed to require explanation when it appeared in the northern press. From A Chicago Tribune account (Dec. 14, 1859) from a D.C. correspondent of the fight over Speaker of the House:
He also handed to the Clerk a letter from Douglas denying that Greeley and he ever "cahoodled" in his (Douglas') parlor, or secure his re-election.
It is spelled canoedle in a Pennsylvania paper [Lebanon Daily News, Oct. 17, 1874], but this might have been for humorous effect, as it is in a mock letter to a would-be candidate ("You canoedling unculinary old cucumber, shut up ; you have no chance for Congress, and Cherrington says you are not fit to watch his fish ponds.")
The sense shift toward "to indulge in caresses and fondling endearments" [OED] is attested by 1860s; W.S. Fortey published in an English songbook "And he Said my Dear Maid will you Marry Me?" a woman's comical lament about her wooer:
But he wanted to kiss and canoodle me
So I wouldn't allow it at all!
What is evidently a reworking of the "Ganges" play from 1866 uses canoodling in a way suggestive of fond caressing. [The Western Times, Exeter, Dec. 28, 1866]. Another early use is in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post for Feb. 18, 1874. The newspaper's account of the Cullompton petty session of two days previous includes the case of a young fellow charged with "being on the premises of Mr. R. M. Dawdney, of Pound Down Farm, Silverton, for an unlawful purpose," viz. to spoon with his sweetheart, Dawdney's servant girl, "in the small hours of the morning."
The defendant was directed to pay the expenses and he left the court with the evident impression that "canoodling" by night was sometimes attended with unpleasant results.
In 1869 W.S. Gilbert published "The King of Canoodle-Dum," one of his popular, buffoonish "Bab Ballads." It concerns an English sailor shipwrecked in the West Indies who is taken up by said native "king" and given a life of tropical luxury. Thanks probably to the song, Canoodle-dum seems to have had some currency in England in the 1870s, referring vaguely to peoples in Africa or the Caribbean.