"a ludicrous trick" [Johnson], played sometimes in malice but more often in sport, 1520s, a word of uncertain origin, perhaps related to the obsolete verb prank "act ostentatiously, show off" (mid-15c.), also "to decorate, adorn in a showy manner" (1540s), which is related to Middle Low German prank "display" (compare also Dutch pronken, German prunken "to make a show, to strut"). The verb in the "play a trick on" sense also is from 1520s. Related: Pranked; pranking. Compare prig. Prinkum-prankum "a prank or trick" is attested from 1590s; as the name of a kind of dance, 1630s.