1520s, "manual skill, skill in using the hands; physical adroitness in general," from French dexterité (16c.), from Latin dexteritatem (nominative dexteritas) "readiness, skillfulness, prosperity," from dexter "skillful," also "right (hand)," from PIE root *deks- "right, on the right hand," also "south." Compare dexter. In 16c.-18c. also "mental adroitness or skill," often in a bad sense, "cleverness in taking advantage or avoiding responsibility."
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "right, opposite left," hence "south" (from the viewpoint of one facing east).
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit daksinah "on the right hand, southern, skillful;" Avestan dashina- "on the right hand;" Greek dexios "on the right hand," also "fortunate, clever;" Latin dexter "skillful," also "right (hand);" Old Irish dess "on the right hand, southern;" Welsh deheu; Gaulish Dexsiva, name of a goddess of fortune; Gothic taihswa; Lithuanian dešinas; Old Church Slavonic desnu, Russian desnoj.
The right was regarded as auspicious (see left and dexterity). Also see Yemen, southpaw, and compare deasil "rightwise, turned toward the right," from Gaelic deiseil "toward the south; toward the right," from deas "right, right-hand; south." Also compare Sanskrit dakshina "right; south," and Welsh go-gledd "north," literally "left."
In reference to a favorite younger son it is from the story of Jacob's family in Genesis. With familiar forms Benjy, Benny. Slang meaning "money" (by 1999) is from the portrait of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin on U.S. $100 bill. In some old uses in herb-lore, etc., it is a folk-etymology corruption of benzoin.
The Latin word was used in augury in the sense of "unlucky, unfavorable" (omens, especially bird flights, seen on the left hand were regarded as portending misfortune), and thus sinister acquired a sense of "harmful, unfavorable, adverse." This was from Greek influence, reflecting the early Greek practice of facing north when observing omens. In genuine Roman auspices, the augurs faced south and left was favorable. Thus sinister also retained a secondary sense in Latin of "favorable, auspicious, fortunate, lucky."
Meaning "evil" is from late 15c. Used in heraldry from 1560s to indicate "left, to the left." Bend (not "bar") sinister in heraldry indicates illegitimacy and preserves the literal sense of "on or from the left side" (though in heraldry this is from the view of the bearer of the shield, not the observer of it; see bend (n.2)).
"sleight of hand; the performance of feats requiring dexterity and skill, particularly of the fingers," 1843, from French prestidigitation, which was coined along with prestidigitator (q.v.).
Old English cræft (West Saxon, Northumbrian), -creft (Kentish), "power, physical strength, might," from Proto-Germanic *krab-/*kraf- (source also of Old Frisian kreft, Old High German chraft, German Kraft "strength, skill;" Old Norse kraptr "strength, virtue"). The ultimate etymology is uncertain.
Sense expanded in Old English to include "skill, dexterity; art, science, talent" (via a notion of "mental power"), which led by late Old English to the meaning "trade, handicraft, employment requiring special skill or dexterity," also "something built or made." The word still was used for "might, power" in Middle English.
Use for "small boat" is first recorded 1670s, probably from a phrase similar to vessels of small craft and referring either to the trade they did or the seamanship they required, or perhaps it preserves the word in its original sense of "power."