c. 1300, transitive, "to stop the breath by preventing air from entering the windpipe;" late 14c., "to make to suffocate, deprive of the power of drawing breath," of persons as well as swallowed objects; a shortening of acheken (c. 1200), from Old English aceocian "to choke, suffocate," probably from root of ceoke "jaw, cheek" (see cheek (n.)), with intensive a-.
Intransitive sense from c. 1400. Meaning "gasp for breath" is from early 15c. Figurative use from c. 1400, in early use often with reference to weeds stifling the growth of useful plants (a Biblical image). Meaning "to fail in the clutch" is attested by 1976, American English. Related: Choked; choking.
The North American choke-cherry (1785) supposedly was so called for its astringent qualities: compare choke-apple "crab-apple" (1610s); and choke-pear (1530s) "kind of pear with an astringent taste" (also with a figurative sense, defined by Johnson as "Any aspersion or sarcasm, by which another person is put to silence)." Choked up "overcome with emotion and unable to speak" is attested by 1896. The baseball batting sense is by 1907.