"apparel for covering the front of a person" (especially while at work, to keep clothes clean), mid-15c., faulty separation (as also in adder, auger, umpire) of a napron (c. 1300), from Old French naperon "small table-cloth," diminutive of nappe "cloth," from Latin mappa "napkin." Napron was still in use as recently as late 16c. The shift of Latin -m- to -n- was a tendency in Old French (conter from computare, printemps from primum, natte "mat, matting," from matta).
Extended 17c. to things which resemble or function like an apron. Symbolic of "wife's business" from 1610s; apron-string tenure was in reference to property held in virtue of one's wife, or during her lifetime only.
Even at his age, he ought not to be always tied to his mother's apron string. [Anne Brontë, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," 1848]
late 14c., "a table napkin, small square piece of cloth used to wipe the lips and hands and protect the clothes at table," a diminutive of nape "a tablecloth" (from Old French nape "tablecloth, cloth cover, towel," from Latin mappa; see map (n.)) + Middle English -kin "little." No longer felt as a diminutive. The Old French diminutive was naperon (see apron). The shift of Latin -m- to -n- was a tendency in Old French (conter from computare, printemps from primum, natte "mat, matting," from matta). Middle English also had naperie "linen objects; sheets, tablecloths, napkins, etc.;" also, "place where the linens are kept." Napkin-ring is from 1680s.
Since Middle English restricted to use as the common name of the viper, the only poisonous British reptile (not generally fatal to humans), then by extension applied to venomous or similar snakes elsewhere (puff-adder, etc.). The modern form represents a faulty separation 14c.-16c. of a nadder into an adder, for which see also apron, auger, nickname, orange, humble pie, aitchbone, umpire. Nedder is still a northern English dialect form. Folklore connection with deafness is via Psalms lviii.1-5. The adder is said to stop up its ears to avoid hearing the snake charmer called in to drive it away.
also dash-board, 1846, "board or leather apron in front of a carriage to stop mud from being splashed ('dashed') into the vehicle by the horse's hoofs," from dash (v.) + board (n.1). Of motor vehicles, "panel under the windshield, on which control panels and gauges are mounted,” by 1904. Except for the situation relative to the front seat, it has nothing in common with the original.
Old English scyrte "skirt, tunic," from Proto-Germanic *skurtjon "a short garment" (source also of Old Norse skyrta, Swedish skjorta "skirt, kirtle;" Middle Dutch scorte, Dutch schort "apron;" Middle High German schurz, German Schurz "apron"), perhaps related to Old English scort, sceort "short," etc., from PIE root *sker- (1) "to cut," on the notion of "a cut piece." Lithuanian šarkas "shirt," Old Church Slavonic sraka "tunic," Russian soročka, Finnish sarkki "shirt" perhaps are from Germanic.
Formerly of the chief garment worn by both sexes, but in modern use long only of that for men; in reference to women's tops, reintroduced 1896. Bloody shirt, exposed as a symbol of outrage, is attested from 1580s. To give (someone) the shirt off one's back is from 1771. To lose one's shirt "suffer total financial loss" is from 1935. To keep one's shirt on "be patient" (1904) is from the notion of (not) stripping down for a fight.
also dickie, dickey, a diminutive form of dick, used in a variety of senses whose origin, application, and connection are more or less obscure. These include: "detached shirt front worn in place of a shirt" (1811); "a leather apron" (1874); "a donkey" (1793); "a small bird," (1851, short for dicky-bird, a nursery-word attested from 1781); "seat in a carriage on which the driver sits" (1801). For at least the garment senses Century Dictionary suggests Dutch dek "a cover, a horse-cloth."