poke (v.)

"to push or thrust against, to prod," especially with something long or pointed, c. 1300, puken, poken "to poke, nudge," a word of obscure origin, perhaps from or related to Middle Dutch poken "to poke" (Dutch beuken), or Middle Low German poken "to stick with a knife" (compare German pochen "to knock, rap"), implying a Proto-Germanic root *puk-, perhaps imitative. Related: Poked; poking.

To poke around "search" is from 1809; to poke along "advance lazily; walk at a leisurely pace" is from 1833. The sense evolution there might be via the notion of "grope, search, feel, or push one's way in or as in the dark;" poke meaning "work in a desultory, ineffective way" is attested from 1796, and poking "pottering" is by 1769. To poke fun "tease" is attested by 1811.

When I told her I had drawn the ten thousand dollar prize in the lottery, she said I wanted to poke fun into her, which you see was no such thing. [Boston Review, February 1811, quoting from a humorous pamphlet on the U.S. Bank by "Abimelech Coody, Esq., ladies' shoemaker"]

poke (n.1)

"small sack," early 13c., probably from a merger of Old English pohha (Northumbrian poha, pocca) "bag, pocket" and Old Norse poki "bag, pouch, pocket," influenced by Old North French poque (12c., Old French poche) "purse, poke, purse-net," which is probably from Germanic. All of them probably are from Proto-Germanic *puk- (source also of Middle Dutch poke, dialectal German Pfoch), from PIE root *beu-, an imitative root associated with words for "to swell" (see bull (n.2)). Compare pocket.

Wan man ʒevit þe a pig, opin þe powch. [The Proverbs of Hendyng, early 14c.] 

poke (n.2)

"pokeweed; a strong-growing branching weed of eastern North America used in medicine and dyeing," colonial American English, from native words, possibly a confusion of similar-sounding Native American plant names; from 1630s in English as "tobacco plant," short for uppowoc (1580s), from Algonquian (Virginia) *uppowoc. Later (1708) the word is used in the sense "pokeweed," as a shortened form of puccoon, from Algonquian (Virginia) *puccoon, name of a plant used for dyeing. Native roots for "smoke" and "stain" have been proposed as the origin or origins.

poke (n.3)

"an act of poking; a thrust or push, especially with something long or pointed," 1796, originally pugilistic slang, from poke (v.). Also (1809) the name of a device, a sort of collar or ox-bow with a short, projecting pole, fitted to domestic animals such as cows, pigs, and sheep to keep them from jumping fences and escaping enclosures. Hence slowpoke. Slang sense "act of sexual intercourse" is attested from 1902.

updated on August 06, 2020