Word Origin & History
O.E. cranc- preserved only in crancstæf "a weaver's instrument," from P.Gmc. base *krank-, and related to crincan "to bend, yield." Eng. retains the literal sense of the ancient root, while Ger. and Du. krank "sick," formerly "weak, small," is a figurative use. The sense of "an eccentric person,"
especially one who is irrationally fixated, is first recorded 1833, said to be from the crank of a barrel organ, which makes it play the same tune over and over, but more likely a back-formation from cranky "cross-tempered, irritable" (1821), and evolving from earlier senses of "a twist or fanciful turn of speech" (1594) or "inaccessible hole or crevice" (1562). Popularized 1881 when it was applied to Horace Greeley during Guiteau's trial. The verb meaning "turning a crank" is first attested 1908, with reference to automobile engines.