"laugh in a half-suppressed way," 1690s, possibly of imitative origin; it is similar to Dutch snikken "to gasp, sob;" also compare the horse's nicker. Related: Snickered; snickering.
1580s, "comic poet," later (c. 1600) "actor in stage comedies," also, generally, "actor;" from French comédien, from comédie (see comedy). Meaning "professional joke-teller, entertainer who performs to make the audience laugh" is from 1898. Old English had heahtorsmið "laughter-maker."
Patterned on Greek engastrimythos, literally "speaking in the belly," which was not originally an entertainer's trick but rather a rumbling sort of internal speech, regarded as a sign of spiritual inspiration or (more usually) demonic possession. Reference to the modern activity so called seems to have begun early 18c., and by 1797 it was being noted that this was a curiously inappropriate word to describe throwing the voice.
late 14c., from Old English hleahtor "laughter; jubilation; derision," from Proto-Germanic *hlahtraz (source also of Old Norse hlatr, Danish latter, Old High German lahtar, German Gelächter); see laugh (v.).
mid-15c., "a heap; the volume or bulk of something," earlier "ship's cargo" (mid-14c.), from a Scandinavian source akin to Old Norse bulki "a heap; ship's cargo," from Proto-Germanic *bul-, from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell."
The meaning was extended by early confusion with obsolete bouk "belly" (from Old English buc "body, belly," from Proto-Germanic *bukaz; see bucket), which led to sense of "size, volume, magnitude of material substance," attested from mid-15c. In bulk 1670s, "loaded loose." The meaning "the greater part" (of anything) is by 1711.