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.
c. 1200, "pointed iron tool for breaking up rock or ground," apparently a variant of pike (n.4).
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.
"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.
early 14c. as a verbal phrase, "lift and take with the fingers," from pick (v.) + up (adv.). From 1510s as "take or get casually, obtain or procure as opportunity offers." Meaning "take (a person found or overtaken) into a vehicle or vessel," is from 1690s, also, of persons, "make acquaintance or take along" (especially for sexual purposes). Intransitive meaning "improve gradually, reacquire vigor or strength" is by 1741. Sense of "tidy up" is from 1861; that of "arrest" is from 1871; meaning "gain speed" is from 1922; meaning "to pay" (a check, tab, etc.) is from 1945. Pick-me-up "stimulating alcoholic drink" is attested from 1867.
"chosen for excellence, specially selected," hence "choicest, best," 1540s, past-participle adjective from pick (v.).