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According to the Online Etymological Dictionary the origin of the word is:

1580s, originally in slang phrase to make a coax of, from earlier noun coax, cox, cokes "a fool, ninny, simpleton" (1560s); modern spelling is 1706. Origin obscure, perhaps related to cock.

But how did a noun meaning "fool" end up as a verb meaning "to influence?"
Is it just because someone who is influenced easily is a fool?

  • I would not say "influence" is a close synonym of "coax". – Colin Fine Oct 10 '11 at 16:51
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One of the early meanings of the verb coax was indeed ‘to make a “cokes” [a fool] of, befool, impose upon, “take in”.’ Another that ran in parallel with it for a while was ‘to make a pet of; to pet, fondle, caress; to treat endearingly or with blandishment’. (Definitions from OED.) It’s not too hard to see how these two uses could lead to the current meaning. (It might perhaps be worth mentioning in passing that the word silly took an opposite path, going from positive to negative. It started life by meaning blessed.)

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