Word Origin & History
1592, "slender riding whip," probably from a Flemish or Low German word akin to Hanoverian swutsche, a variant of Low Ger. zwukse "long thin stick, switch," from Gmc. base *swih- (cf. O.H.G. zwec "wooden peg," Ger. Zweck "aim, design," originally "peg as a target," Zwick "wooden peg"), perhaps connected
with PIE base *swei- "to swing, bend, to turn." The meaning "device for changing the direction of something or making or breaking a connection" is first recorded 1797. "The peg sense suits the mech(anical) applications" [Weekley], and these senses may be a direct borrowing from those senses in Continantal Gmc. languages rather than a continuation of the "pliant wand" sense. The meaning "a change, a reversal, an exchange, a substitution" is first recorded 1920. Switchblade dates from 1932, from the "switch" which is pressed to spring the knife open. Switchboard first attested 1884.
c.1611, "to strike with a switch," from switch
(n.). The meaning "turn off or on" is first recorded 1853, of trains on tracks, 1881 of electricity, 1932 of radio or (later) television. Sense of "shift, divert" is from 1860. Meaning "to change one thing for another" is recorded
from 1919. Switch-hitter is 1930s in baseball slang, 1956 in the sense of "bisexual person." Switchback in ref. to zig-zag railways is recorded from 1863.