"planned movement of troops or warship," 1757, from French manoeuvre "manipulation, maneuver," from Old French manovre "manual labor" 13c.), from Medieval Latin manuopera (source of Spanish maniobra, Italian manovra), from manuoperare "work with the hands," from Latin manu operari, from manu, ablative of manus "hand" (from PIE root *man- (2) "hand") + operari "to work, operate" (from PIE root *op- "to work, produce in abundance").
The same word had been borrowed from French into Middle English in a sense "hand-labor" (late 15c.; compare manure). General meanings "artful plan, ingenious scheme," also " an agile or adroit movement" (by a person or animal) are by 1774. Related: Maneuvers.
Coup de main, and Manoeuvre, might be excusable in Marshal Saxe, as he was in the service of France, and perfectly acquainted with both; but we cannot see what apology can be made for our officers lugging them in by head and shoulders, without the least necessity, as a sudden stroke might have done for one, and a proper motion, for the other. Reconnoitre is another favourite word in the military way; and as we cannot find out that it is much more significant than take a view, we beg leave it may be sent home again. ["The humble remonstrance of the mob of Great Britain, against the importation of French words, &c.," in Annual Register for the Year 1758]
1777, from maneuver (n.), or else from French manœuvrer "work, work with one's hands; carry out, prepare" (12c.), from Medieval Latin manuoperare. Originally in a military sense. Figurative use from 1801. Related: Maneuvered; maneuvering.