before vowels ferr-, word-forming element indicating the presence of or derivation from iron, from Latin ferro-, combining form of ferrum "iron," which is of unknown origin. Possibly of Semitic origin, via Etruscan [Klein]; Watkins suggests "possibly borrowed (via Etruscan) from the same obscure source as OE bræs "brass." Also sometimes especially indicative of the presence of iron in the ferrous state; ferri- indicating iron in the ferric state.
Middle English -ik, -ick, word-forming element making adjectives, "having to do with, having the nature of, being, made of, caused by, similar to," from French -ique and directly from Latin -icus or from cognate Greek -ikos "in the manner of; pertaining to." From PIE adjective suffix *-(i)ko, which also yielded Slavic -isku, adjectival suffix indicating origin, the source of the -sky (Russian -skii) in many surnames. In chemistry, indicating a higher valence than names in -ous (first in benzoic, 1791).
In Middle English and after often spelled -ick, -ike, -ique. Variant forms in -ick (critick, ethick) were common in early Modern English and survived in English dictionaries into early 19c. This spelling was supported by Johnson but opposed by Webster, who prevailed.