c. 1600, "action of criticizing, discrimination or discussion of merit, character or quality; a critical remark or disquisition," from critic + -ism. Meaning "art of judging of and defining the qualities or merits of a thing," especially "estimating literary or artistic worth" is from 1670s. Meaning "inquiry into the history and authenticity of a text" (the sense in higher criticism) is from 1660s.
In the first place, I must take leave to tell them that they wholly mistake the Nature of Criticism who think its business is principally to find fault. Criticism, as it was first instituted by Aristotle, was meant a Standard of judging well. The chiefest part of which is, to observe those Excellencies which should delight a reasonable Reader. [Dryden, preface to "State of Innocence," 1677]
"random radio noise," 1912, from static (adj.). Figurative sense of "aggravation, criticism" is attested from 1926.
c. 1400, "talk, speech; talkativeness, foolish talk," verbal noun from carp (v.). The sense of "unreasonable criticism or censure" is by 16c.
1670s, coined by Dryden (as wittycism) from witty on model of criticism.
"That every witticism is an inexact thought: that what is perfectly true is imperfectly witty ...." [Walter Savage Landor, "Imaginary Conversations"]
formerly critick, 1580s, "one who passes judgment, person skilled in judging merit in some particular class of things," from French critique (14c.), from Latin criticus "a judge, a censor, an estimator," also "grammarian who detects spurious passages in literary work," from Greek kritikos "able to make judgments," from krinein "to separate, decide" (from PIE root *krei- "to sieve," thus "discriminate, distinguish"). The meaning "one who judges merits of books, plays, etc." is from c. 1600. The English word always has had overtones of "censurer, faultfinder, one who judges severely."
To understand how the artist felt, however, is not criticism; criticism is an investigation of what the work is good for. ... Criticism ... is a serious and public function; it shows the race assimilating the individual, dividing the immortal from the mortal part of a soul. [George Santayana, "The Life of Reason," 1906]
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ;
[Pope, "An Essay on Criticism," 1709]
For "inferior or incompetent critic" 17c. had criticaster; later generations used criticling, critikin, criticule.