help (v.)

Old English helpan "to help, support, succor; benefit, do good to; cure, amend" (transitive, class III strong verb; past tense healp, past participle holpen), from Proto-Germanic *helpanan (source also of Old Norse hjalpa, Old Frisian helpa, Middle Dutch and Dutch helpen, Old High German helfan, German helfen), a word of uncertain origin. Perhaps it is cognate with Lithuanian šelpiu, šelpti "to support, help."

The intransitive sense of "afford aid or assistance," is attested from early 13c. The word is recorded as a cry of distress from late 14c. The sense of "serve someone with food at table" (1680s) is translated from French servir "to help, stead, avail," and led to helping (n.) "portion of food."

Help yourself as an invitation, in reference to food, etc., is from 1894. Related: Helped (c. 1300). The Middle English past participle holpen survives in biblical and U.S. dialectal use.

help (n.)

Old English help (m.), helpe (f.) "assistance, succor," from Proto-Germanic *helpo (source also of Old Norse hjalp, Swedish hjälp, Old Frisian helpe, Dutch hulp, Old High German helfa, German Hilfe), from the source of help (v.).

The use of help as euphemism for "servant" is American English, 1640s (originally in New England). Bartlett (1848) describes it as "The common name in New England for servants, and for the operatives in a cotton or woollen factory." Most early 19c. English writers travelling in America seem to have taken a turn at explaining this to the home folks.  

A domestic servant of American birth, and without negro blood in his or her veins ... is not a servant, but a 'help.' 'Help wanted,' is the common heading of advertisements in the North, when servants are required. [Chas. Mackay, "Life and Liberty in America," 1859].

But help also meant "assistant, helper, supporter" in Middle English (c. 1200).

updated on July 15, 2021

Definitions of help from WordNet
help (v.)
give help or assistance; be of service;
Can you help me carry this table?
She never helps around the house
Everyone helped out during the earthquake
Synonyms: assist / aid
help (v.)
improve the condition of;
These pills will help the patient
Synonyms: aid
help (v.)
be of use;
This will help to prevent accidents
Synonyms: facilitate
help (v.)
abstain from doing; always used with a negative;
I can't help myself--I have to smoke
She could not help watching the sad spectacle
Synonyms: help oneself
help (v.)
help to some food; help with food or drink;
I served him three times, and after that he helped himself
Synonyms: serve
help (v.)
contribute to the furtherance of;
This money will help the development of literacy in developing countries
help (v.)
take or use;
She helped herself to some of the office supplies
Synonyms: avail
help (v.)
improve; change for the better;
New slipcovers will help the old living room furniture
help (n.)
the activity of contributing to the fulfillment of a need or furtherance of an effort or purpose;
offered his help in unloading
Synonyms: aid / assist / assistance
help (n.)
a person who contributes to the fulfillment of a need or furtherance of an effort or purpose;
they hired additional help to finish the work
Synonyms: assistant / helper / supporter
help (n.)
a person or thing that is a resource that helps make something easier or possible to do;
Synonyms: aid / assistance
help (n.)
a means of serving;
there's no help for it
Synonyms: avail / service
From, not affiliated with etymonline.