late 12c., mēk, "gentle or mild of temper; forbearing under injury or annoyance; humble, unassuming;" of a woman, "modest," from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse mjukr "soft, pliant, gentle," from Proto-Germanic *meukaz (source also of Gothic muka-modei "humility," Dutch muik "soft"), a word of uncertain origin, perhaps from PIE *meug- "slippery, slimy." In the Bible, it translates Latin mansuetus from Vulgate (for which see mansuetude). Sense of "submissive, obedient, docile" is from c. 1300.
"timid, meek person," 1938, from Caspar Milquetoast, character created by U.S. newspaper cartoonist H.T. Webster (1885-1952) in the strip "The Timid Soul," which ran from 1924 in the "New York World" and later the "Herald Tribune." By 1930 the name was being referenced as a type of the meek man. The form seems to be milktoast with an added French twist; also see milksop.
fem. proper name, from Italian, from German Grishilda, from Old High German grisja hilda, literally "gray battle-maid" (see gray (adj.) + Hilda). The English form, Grisilde, provided Chaucer's Grizel, the name of the meek, patient wife in the Clerk's Tale, the story and the name both from Boccaccio.
c. 1200, shepishe, "of, pertaining to, or resembling a sheep" in some perceived characteristic, from sheep + -ish. Originally "meek, modest, docile, simple," often as qualities of good Christians. With suggestions of "easy to deceive" by c. 1400. The sense of "bashful, over-modest, awkward and timorous among strangers" is recorded by 1690s. Related: Sheepishly; sheepishness. Chaucer, Sidney, and Dylan Thomas uses sheepy (adj.). Sheeply (Old English had sceaplic "of a sheep") seems less common.
"apt or dexterous, subtly clever or skillful," mid-15c., from Old English gedæfte, which meant "mild, gentle, simple, meek," but which splintered into different forms and senses in Middle English, yielding this word and also daft (q.v.). In Middle English it also could mean "well-mannered, gentle, modest, mild," and "dull, uncouth, boorish." Cognate with Gothic gadaban "to be fit," Old Norse dafna "to grow strong," Dutch deftig "important, relevant," from Proto-Germanic *dab-, which has no certain IE etymology and is perhaps a substratum word. Related: Deftness.
"tedious and ineffectual person," 1935, American English carnival slang, of uncertain origin. Perhaps from jerkwater "petty, inferior, insignificant" [Barnhart, OED]; alternatively from, or influenced by, verbal phrase jerk off "masturbate" [Rawson]. The lyric in "Big Rock Candy Mountain," sometimes offered as evidence of earlier use, apparently is "Where they hung the Turk [not jerk] that invented work."
A soda-jerk (1915; soda-jerker is from 1883) is so called for the pulling motion required to work the taps.
The SODA-FOUNTAIN CLERK
Consider now the meek and humble soda-fountain clerk,
Who draweth off the moistened air with nimble turn and jerk,
[etc., Bulletin of Pharmacy, August, 1902]