The word easel (meaning "wooden frame") was borrowed around the turn of the seventeenth century from the Dutch word ezel, meaning "donkey". The definition came about because of a historical association with donkeys carrying a burden and the painting being loaded onto a stand. Ezel is from Middle Dutch esel and Proto-Germanic asil; that traces to Latin asellus, a variant of asinus that had the same definition and was also the source of the English words ass and asinine. Beyond that, linguists are stumped, but the current theories are that asinus either derives from Proto-Indo-European agros ("field") or a non-IE loanword. Literary usage of the word easel has been relatively constant since the 1800s, and Google searches for it peak every year in December.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.