c. 1600, "a hangman," also "a gallows," from the surname of a hangman at London's Tyburn gallows, c. 1606-1608, who is often referred to in contemporary plays. The name represents a late borrowing from the Low Countries (compare Dutch Diederik) of Old High German Theodric (see Dietrich).
As "a hoisting apparatus for lifting and moving heavy weights," 1727. "It is similar to the crane, but differs from it in having the boom, which corresponds to the jib of the crane, pivoted at the lower end so that it may take different inclinations from the perpendicular" [Century Dictionary]. As the word for a structure over an oil well to support the drilling apparatus, 1861, American English.
updated on July 30, 2018