early 13c., pinchen, "to pluck (an eyebrow);" mid-14c. "compress between the finger and thumb or some device, squeeze between two hard, opposing bodies," from Old North French *pinchier "to pinch, squeeze, nip; steal" (Old French pincier, Modern French pincer), a word of uncertain origin, possibly from Vulgar Latin *punctiare "to pierce," which might be a blend of Latin punctum "point" + *piccare "to pierce."
From mid-14c. as "to pain, torment." Of tight shoes, from 1570s. Meaning "to steal" in English is from 1650s. Sense of "to be stingy" is recorded from early 14c. Related: Pinched; pinching.
late 15c., "critical juncture" (as in in a pinch "in an emergency"), from pinch (v.). This figurative sense is attested earlier than the literal sense of "act of pinching" (1590s) or that of "small quantity" (as much as can be pinched between a thumb and finger), which is from 1580s. There is a pinche (n.) in mid-15c., perhaps meaning "fold or pleat of fabric."
The baseball pinch-hitter "batter substituted for another, especially at a critical point in the game" is attested by that name from 1912. To pinch-hit (v.) is by 1931.
updated on June 15, 2020