1510s, "liable to sin, morally weak;" c. 1600, "liable to break;" a back-formation from fragility, or else from French fragile (Old French fragele, 14c.), from Latin fragilis "easily broken," from root of frangere "to break" (from PIE root *bhreg- "to break"). Transferred sense of "of frail constitution" (of persons) is from 1858.
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to break."
It forms all or part of: anfractuous; Brabant; bracken; brake (n.1) "stopping device for a wheel;" brake (n.2) "kind of fern;" brash; breach; break; breccia; breeches; brioche; chamfer; defray; diffraction; fractal; fraction; fractious; fracture; fragile; fragility; fragment; frail; frangible; infraction; infringe; irrefragable; irrefrangible; naufragous; ossifrage; refract; refraction; refrain (n.); refrangible; sassafras; saxifrage; suffragan; suffrage.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit (giri)-bhraj "breaking-forth (out of the mountains);" Latin frangere "to break (something) in pieces, shatter, fracture;" Lithuanian braškėti "crash, crack;" Old Irish braigim "break wind;" Gothic brikan, Old English brecan "to break."
Old English glæs, from glass (v.). Middle English also had an adjective glazen, from Old English glæsen. The glass snake (1736, actually a limbless lizard) is so called for the fragility of its tail. The glass slipper in "Cinderella" perhaps is an error by Charles Perrault, translating in 1697, mistaking Old French voir "ermine, fur" for verre "glass." In other versions of the tale it is a fur slipper. The proverb about people in glass houses throwing stones is attested by 1779, but earlier forms go back to 17c.:
Who hath glass-windows of his own must take heed how he throws stones at his house. ... He that hath a body made of glass must not throw stones at another. [John Ray, "Handbook of Proverbs," 1670]
Glass-house is from late 14c. as "glass factory," 1838 as "greenhouse."
c. 1300, fairie, "the country or home of supernatural or legendary creatures; fairyland," also "something incredible or fictitious," from Old French faerie "land of fairies, meeting of fairies; enchantment, magic, witchcraft, sorcery" (12c.), from fae "fay," from Latin fata "the Fates," plural of fatum "that which is ordained; destiny, fate," from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say." Also compare fate (n.), also fay.
In ordinary use an elf differs from a fairy only in generally seeming young, and being more often mischievous. [Century Dictionary]
But that was before Tolkien. As a type of supernatural being from late 14c. [contra Tolkien; for example "This maketh that ther been no fairyes" in "Wife of Bath's Tale"], perhaps via intermediate forms such as fairie knight "supernatural or legendary knight" (c. 1300), as in Spenser, where faeries are heroic and human-sized. As a name for the diminutive winged beings in children's stories from early 17c.
Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of "rationalization," which transformed the glamour of Elfland into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass. It seems to become fashionable soon after the great voyages had begun to make the world seem too narrow to hold both men and elves; when the magic land of Hy Breasail in the West had become the mere Brazils, the land of red-dye-wood. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," 1947]
Hence, figurative adjective use in reference to lightness, fineness, delicacy. Slang meaning "effeminate male homosexual" is recorded by 1895. Fairy ring, of certain fungi in grass fields (as we would explain it now), is from 1590s. Fairy godmother attested from 1820. Fossil Cretaceous sea urchins found on the English downlands were called fairy loaves, and a book from 1787 reports that "country people" in England called the stones of the old Roman roads fairy pavements.