"intimidate, daunt the fear or courage of," c. 1600, probably [OED] from Old Norse kuga "oppress," which is of unknown origin but perhaps has something to do with the Scandinavian forms of cow (n.) on the notion of "easily herded." Related: Cowed; cowing.
c. 1300, "to vanquish, subdue, conquer," from Old French danter, variant of donter (12c., Modern French dompter) "be afraid of, fear, doubt; control, restrain," from Latin domitare, frequentative of domare "to tame" (see tame (v.)). Sense of "to intimidate, subdue the courage of" is from late 15c. Related: Daunted; daunting.
1739, "to scold," a word of unknown origin; perhaps related to Danish dialectal rag "grudge." Compare bullyrag, ballarag "intimidate" (1807). Weakened sense of "annoy, tease, harass roughly" is student slang, by 1808. Related: Ragged; ragging.
also bullwhip, "long, thick type of whip 'used by drovers to intimidate refractory animals'" [Century Dictionary], 1852, American English, from bull (n.1) + whip (n.). Whips made of bull hide were known in Middle English as bull-rope, bull-sinew, bull-yerde. But in bull-whip (also in 19c. American English bull-whack) the sense is perhaps "whip that can drive a bull," or bull might be a reference to the size of it. The earliest references (1850s) are in Northern accounts of Southern slavery. As a verb from 1895.
Middle English fere, from Old English fær "calamity, sudden danger, peril, sudden attack," from Proto-Germanic *feraz "danger" (source also of Old Saxon far "ambush," Old Norse far "harm, distress, deception," Dutch gevaar, German Gefahr "danger"), from PIE *pēr-, a lengthened form of the verbal root *per- (3) "to try, risk."
Sense of "state of being afraid, uneasiness caused by possible danger" developed by late 12c. Some Old English words for "fear" as we now use it were fyrhto, fyrhto; as a verb, ondrædan. Meaning "feeling of dread and reverence for God" is from c. 1400. To put the fear of God (into someone) "intimidate, cause to cower" is by 1888, from the common religious phrase; the extended use was often at first in colonial contexts:
Thus then we seek to put "the fear of God" into the natives at the point of the bayonet, and excuse ourselves for the bloody work on the plea of the benefits which we intend to confer afterwards. [Felix Adler, "The Religion of Duty," 1905]
"worthless person" (especially a young hoodlum or petty criminal), 1917, probably from punk kid "criminal's apprentice," U.S. underworld slang attested by 1904 (with overtones of "catamite"). Ultimately from punk (adj.) "inferior, bad" (q.v.), or else from punk "prostitute, harlot, strumpet," attested by 1590s, of unknown origin. Related: Punkling. For the possible sense shift from "harlot" to "homosexual," compare the possibility in gay.
By 1923 used generally for "young boy, inexperienced person" (originally in show business, as in punk day, circus slang from 1930, "day when children are admitted free"). The verb meaning "to back out of" is by 1920.
The "young criminal" sense no doubt is the inspiration in punk rock — loud, fast, aggressive, and outrageous — which is attested by 1971 (in a Dave Marsh article in Creem, referring to Rudi "Question Mark" Martinez); widely popularized in 1976.
If you looked different, people tried to intimidate you all the time. It was the same kind of crap you had to put up with as a hippie, when people started growing long hair. Only now it was the guys with the long hair yelling at you. You think they would have learned something. I had this extreme parrot red hair and I got hassled so much I carried a sign that said "FUCK YOU ASSHOLE." I got so tired of yelling it, I would just hold up the sign. [Bobby Startup, Philadelphia punk DJ, Philadelphia Weekly, Oct. 10, 2001]