late 15c., "insert a shoot from one tree into another," from graft (n.1). Figurative use by 1530s. Surgical sense by 1868. Related: Grafted; grafting.
"shoot inserted into another plant," late 15c. alteration of Middle English graff (late 14c.), from Old French graife "grafting knife, carving tool; stylus, pen," from Latin graphium "stylus," from Greek grapheion "stylus," from graphein "to write" (see -graphy). So called probably on resemblance of a stylus to the pencil-shaped shoots used in grafting. The terminal -t in the English word is not explained. Surgical sense is from 1871.
"corruption," 1865, perhaps 1859, American English, perhaps from British slang graft "one's occupation" (1853), which is perhaps from the identical word meaning "a ditch, moat," literally "a digging" (1640s), from Middle Dutch graft, from graven "to dig" (see grave (v.)).
"to set in, put or place in," 1520s, from Latin insertus, past participle of inserere "to graft, implant," from in- "in" (from PIE root *en "in") + serere "join together, arrange, put in a row," from PIE root *ser- (2) "to line up." Middle English had inseren "to set in place, to graft, to introduce (into the mind)" (late 14c.), directly from the Latin verb. Related: Inserted; inserting.
Old English impe, impa "young shoot, graft," from impian "to graft," probably an early Germanic borrowing from Vulgar Latin *imptus, from Late Latin impotus "implanted," from Greek emphytos, verbal adjective formed from emphyein "implant," from em- "in" + phyein "to bring forth, make grow," from PIE root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow." Compare Swedish ymp, Danish ympe "graft."
The sense of the word has shifted from plants to people, via the meaning "child, offspring" (late 14c., now obsolete), from the notion of "newness." The current meaning "little devil" is attested from 1580s, from common pejorative phrases such as imp of Satan. The extension from this to "mischievous or pert child" (1640s) unconsciously turns the word back toward its Middle English sense.
Suche appereth as aungelles, but in very dede they be ymps of serpentes. [Wynkyn de Worde, "The Pilgrimage of Perfection," 1526]
1590s, "act of putting in," from French insertion (16c.) or directly from Late Latin insertionem (nominative insertio) "a putting in," noun of action from past participle stem of Latin inserere "to graft, implant" (see insert (v.)). Meaning "that which is inserted" attested from 1620s.