early 15c., irken, "to trouble (someone), disturb, hinder, annoy;" earlier "be lax, slow, or unwilling (in doing something); be displeased or discontented" (early 14c.); "be weary of, be disgusted with" (c. 1400); of uncertain origin, perhaps from Old Norse yrka "to work" (see work (v.)).
Watkins suggests it is related to Old Norse yrkja "work." Middle High German erken "to disgust" also has been suggested. A Middle English adjective, irk, meaning "weary, tired, bored; distressed, troubled; troublesome, annoying," is attested from c. 1300 in Northern and Midlands writing; it is sometimes said to be from the verb, but it is older, and Middle English Compendium says this is probably Celtic, and compares Old Irish arcoat "he injures," erchoat "harm, injury."
updated on April 14, 2019