Middle English prikke, "pointed object, something that punctures or stabs; sting of an insect; a goad; a pin or fastener; a pricking as a bodily pain or torment," from Old English prica (n.) "sharp point, puncture; minute mark made by sticking or piercing; particle, very small portion of space or time," a common Low German word (compare Low German prik "point," Middle Dutch prick, Dutch prik, Swedish prick "point, dot") of unknown etymology (see prick (v.)).
Figurative sense of "a goad" (to the affections, the conscience, etc.) was in Middle English. The meaning "pointed weapon, dagger" is attested from 1550s. From the Old English sense of "dot or small mark made in writing" came the Middle English use, in music, "mark indicating pitch" (compare counterpoint (n.2)); hence prick-song (mid-15c.) "music sung from written notes" instead of from memory or by ear.
It had many entwined extended senses in Middle English and early modern English, such as "a point marking a stage in progression," especially in the prick "the highest point, apex, acme;" and from the notion of "a point in time," especially "the moment of death" (prike of deth).
The use in kick against the pricks (Acts ix.5, first in the translation of 1382) probably is from sense of "a goad for oxen" (mid-14c.), which made it a plausible translation of Latin stimulus: advorsum stimulum calces was proverbial in Latin, and the English phrase also was used literally. The notion in the image is "to balk, be recalcitrant, resist superior force." The noun also was used in the 1384 Wycliffe Bible in 2 Corinthians xii.7, where the Latin is stimulis carnis meæ:
And lest the greetnesse of reuelaciouns enhaunce me in pride, the pricke of my fleisch, an aungel of Sathanas, is ʒouun to me, the which boffatith me.
Earliest recorded slang use for "penis" is 1590s (Shakespeare puns upon it). The verb prick was used in a figurative sense "have sexual intercourse with" (a woman) in Chaucer (late 14c.). My prick was used 16c.-17c. as a term of endearment by "immodest maids" for their boyfriends. As a term of abuse to a man, it is attested by 1929. Prick-teaser is attested from 1958.
Middle English priken, from Old English prician "to pierce with a sharp point, prick out, place a point, dot, or mark upon; sting; cause a pricking sensation," from West Germanic *prikojan (source also of Low German pricken, Dutch prikken "to prick"), of uncertain origin. Danish prikke "to mark with dots," Swedish pricka "to point, prick, mark with dots" probably are from Low German. Related: Pricked; pricking.
From c. 1200 in a figurative sense of "to cause agitation, to distress, to trouble;" late 14c. as "incite, stir to action." Pricklouse (c. 1500) was a derisive name for a tailor. To prick up (one's) ears is 1580s, originally of animals with pointed ears (prycke-eared, of foxes or horses or dogs, is from early 15c.).
thou prick-ear'd cur of Iceland!
["Henry V," ii. 1. 44.]
Prick-me-dainty (1520s) was an old term for one who is affectedly finical.
updated on November 01, 2020