early 15c., "hunt with a ferret," from ferret (n.) or from Old French verb fureter, in reference to the use of half-tame ferrets to kill rats and flush rabbits from burrows. The extended sense of "search out, discover," especially by perseverance and cunning, usually with out (adv.), is from 1570s. Related: Ferreted; ferreting.
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to carry," also "to bear children."
It forms all or part of: Aberdeen; amphora; anaphora; aquifer; auriferous; bairn; barrow (n.1) "frame for carrying a load;" bear (v.); bearing; Berenice; bier; birth; bring; burden (n.1) "a load;" carboniferous; Christopher; chromatophore; circumference; confer; conference; conifer; cumber; cumbersome; defer (v.2) "yield;" differ; difference; differentiate; efferent; esophagus; euphoria; ferret; fertile; Foraminifera; forbear (v.); fossiliferous; furtive; indifferent; infer; Inverness; Lucifer; metaphor; odoriferous; offer; opprobrium; overbear; paraphernalia; periphery; pestiferous; pheromone; phoresy; phosphorus; Porifera; prefer; proffer; proliferation; pyrophoric; refer; reference; semaphore; somniferous; splendiferous; suffer; transfer; vociferate; vociferous.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit bharati "he carries, brings," bhrtih "a bringing, maintenance;" Avestan baraiti "carries;" Old Persian barantiy "they carry;" Armenian berem "I carry;" Greek pherein "to carry," pherne "dowry;" Latin ferre "to bear, carry," fors (genitive fortis) "chance, luck," perhaps fur "a thief;" Old Irish beru/berim "I catch, I bring forth," beirid "to carry;" Old Welsh beryt "to flow;" Gothic bairan "to carry;" Old English and Old High German beran, Old Norse bera "barrow;" Old Church Slavonic birati "to take;" Russian brat' "to take," bremya "a burden," beremennaya "pregnant."