Old English sittan "to occupy a seat, be seated, sit down, seat oneself; remain, continue; settle, encamp, occupy; lie in wait; besiege" (class V strong verb; past tense sæt, past participle seten), from Proto-Germanic *setjan (source also of Old Saxon sittian, Old Norse sitja, Danish sidde, Old Frisian sitta, Middle Dutch sitten, Dutch zitten, Old High German sizzan, German sitzen, Gothic sitan), from PIE root *sed- (1) "to sit."
With past tense sat, formerly also set, now restricted to dialect, and sate, now archaic; and past participle sat, formerly sitten. In reference to a legislative assembly, from 1510s. Meaning "to baby-sit" is recorded from 1966.
To sit back "be inactive" is from 1943. To sit on one's hands was originally "to withhold applause" (1926); later, "to do nothing" (1959). To sit around "be idle, do nothing" is 1915, American English. To sit out "not take part" is from 1650s. Sitting pretty is from 1916.