1501, "old or decayed tree stump," of unknown origin. Meaning extended to "small ox or cow" (1549) and by 1614 to other animals and people. Specific Amer.Eng. sense of "smallest of a litter" (esp. of pigs) is attested from 1841. Some see a connection to M.Du. runt "ox," but OED thinks this unlikely, and pronounces the word "of obscure origin."