late 14c., eighte, earlier ehte (c. 1200), from Old English eahta, æhta, from Proto-Germanic *akhto (source also of Old Saxon ahto, Old Frisian ahta, Old Norse atta, Swedish åtta, Dutch acht, Old High German Ahto, German acht, Gothic ahtau), from PIE *okto(u) "eight" (source also of Sanskrit astau, Avestan ashta, Greek okto, Latin octo, Old Irish ocht-n, Breton eiz, Old Church Slavonic osmi, Lithuanian aštuoni). From the Latin word come Italian otto, Spanish ocho, Old French oit, Modern French huit. For spelling, see fight (v.).
Meaning "eight-man crew of a rowing boat" is from 1847. The Spanish piece of eight (1690s) was so called because it was worth eight reals (see piece (n.)). Figure (of) eight as the shape of a race course, etc., attested from c. 1600. To be behind the eight ball "in trouble" (1932) is a metaphor from shooting pool. Eight hours as the ideal length of a fair working day is recorded by 1845.