c. 1300, from Old Norse veikr "weak," cognate with Old English wac "weak, pliant, soft," from Proto-Germanic *waika- "yield" (source also of Old Saxon wek, Swedish vek, Middle Dutch weec, Dutch week "weak, soft, tender," Old High German weih "yielding, soft," German weich "soft"), from PIE root *weik- (2) "to bend, to wind."
Sense of "lacking authority" is first recorded early 15c.; that of "lacking moral strength" late 14c. In grammar, denoting a verb inflected by regular syllabic addition rather than by change of the radical vowel, from 1833. Related: Weakly. Weak-kneed "wanting in resolve" is by 1856; older in a literal sense.
also *weig-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to bend, to wind."
It forms all or part of: vetch; vicar; vicarious; vice- "deputy, assistant, substitute;" viceregent; vice versa; vicissitude; weak; weakfish; week; wicker; wicket; witch hazel; wych.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit visti "changing, changeable;" Old English wac "weak, pliant, soft," wician "to give way, yield," wice "wych elm," Old Norse vikja "to bend, turn," Swedish viker "willow twig, wand," German wechsel "change."
1540s, imbecille "weak, feeble" (especially in reference to the body), from French imbecile "weak, feeble" (15c.), from Latin imbecillus "weak, feeble," a word of uncertain origin.
The Latin word traditionally is said to mean "unsupported" or "without a walking stick" (Juvenal: imbecillis: quasi sine baculo), from assimilated form of in- "not, opposite of" + baculum "a stick" (see bacillus), but Century Dictionary finds that "improbable" and de Vaan finds it "very far-fetched" and adds "it seems to me that exactly the persons who can walk without a support are the stronger ones." There also are phonological objections.
Sense shifted to "mentally weak or incapable" from mid-18c. (compare frail, which in provincial English also could mean "mentally weak"). As a noun, "feeble-minded person," it is attested from 1802. Traditionally an adult with a mental age of roughly 6 to 9 (above an idiot but beneath a moron).