word-forming element meaning "in; into," from French and Old French en-, from Latin in- "in, into" (from PIE root *en "in"). Typically assimilated before -p-, -b-, -m-, -l-, and -r-. Latin in- became en- in French, Spanish, Portuguese, but remained in- in Italian.
Also used with native and imported elements to form verbs from nouns and adjectives, with a sense "put in or on" (encircle), also "cause to be, make into" (endear), and used as an intensive (enclose). Spelling variants in French that were brought over into Middle English account for parallels such as ensure/insure, and most en- words in English had at one time or another a variant in in-, and vice versa.
Old English faldan (Mercian), fealdan (West Saxon), transitive, "to bend (cloth) back over itself, wrap up, furl," class VII strong verb (past tense feold, past participle fealden), from Proto-Germanic *falthan, *faldan (source also of Middle Dutch vouden, Dutch vouwen, Old Norse falda, Middle Low German volden, Old High German faldan, German falten, Gothic falþan), from PIE *pol-to-, suffixed form of root *pel- (2) "to fold."
Of the arms, from late Old English. Intransitive sense "become doubled upon itself" is from c. 1300 (of the body); earlier "give way, fail" (mid-13c.). Sense of "to yield to pressure" is from late 14c. The weak conjugation developed from 15c. Related: Folded; folding.