also laughingstock; 1510s, formed by analogy with whipping-stock "whipping post," later also "object of frequent whipping" (but that word is not attested in writing in this sense until 1670s). See laughing + stock (n.1). Also in the same sense was jesting-stock (1530s), and compare gaping-stock "person or thing regarded as an object of wonder;" loathing-stock "person who is an object of general contempt" (1620s); scoffing-stock (1570s). A Latin word for it was irridiculum.
mid-14c., verbal noun from laugh (v.). Laughing matter (usually with negative) is from 1560s. Nitrous oxide has been called laughing gas since 1842 (for its exhilarating effects). Humphry Davy, experimenting with the gas, discovered these as far back as 1779: "When I took the bag from my mouth, I immediately laughed. The laughter was involuntary, but highly pleasurable, accompanied by a thrill all through me."
Old English stocc "stump, post, stake, tree trunk, log," also "pillory" (usually plural, stocks), from Proto-Germanic *stauk- "tree trunk" (source also of Old Norse stokkr "block of wood, trunk of a tree," Old Saxon, Old Frisian stok, Middle Dutch stoc "tree trunk, stump," Dutch stok "stick, cane," Old High German stoc "tree trunk, stick," German Stock "stick, cane;" also Dutch stuk, German Stück "piece"), from an extended form of PIE root *(s)teu- (1) "to push, stick, knock, beat" (see steep (adj.)).
Meaning "ancestry, family" (late 14c.) is a figurative use of the "tree trunk" sense (as in family tree). This is also the root of the meaning "heavy part of a tool," and "part of a rifle held against the shoulder" (1540s). Meaning "person as dull and senseless as a block or log" is from c. 1300; hence "a dull recipient of action or notice" (1540s).
Meaning "framework on which a boat was constructed" (early 15c.) led to figurative phrase on stocks "planned and commenced" (1660s). Taking stock "making an inventory" is attested from 1736. Stock, lock, and barrel "the whole of a thing" is recorded from 1817. Stock-still (late 15c.) is literally "as still as a tree trunk."
"supply for future use" (early 15c.), "sum of money" (mid-15c.), Middle English developments of stock (n.1), but the ultimate sense connection is uncertain. Perhaps the notion is of the "trunk" from which gains are an outgrowth, or from stock (n.1) in obsolete sense of "money-box" (c. 1400). Meaning "subscribed capital of a corporation" is from 1610s.
In stock "in the possession of a trader" is from 1610s. Meaning "broth made by boiling meat or vegetables" is from 1764. Theatrical use, in reference to a company regularly acting together at a given theater, is attested from 1761. Figurative phrase take stock in "regard as important" is from 1870. As the collective term for the movable property of a farm, it is recorded from 1510s; hence livestock.