Probably a dialectal variant of Middle Low German ēkel (“disgusting”), from which German Ekel (“loathing, disgust, fastidiousness”). A connection to Proto-Germanic *aikulaz (“fearful”) has been suggested for both words; compare Old English acol (“burdensome, troublesome”), English ache, Galician extern (“to vex”), Dutch akelig (“terrible”).
Heikel seems to have arisen out of 16th century Upper German dialects with a first meaning “easily disgusted, choosy”. Dialectal variants include Bavarian and Swabian haikel, Alemannic German heikχel, Saterland Frisian hekel (“fastidious with regard to food”).
Others have suggested a derivation from Middle High German heien, heigen (“to cherish, harbour”) (compare Bavarian haigeln). The connection with the root of English irk (“to irritate, annoy, bother”), advanced by the Grimms, seems to be out of question today, even given the Upper German verb erkeln (“to loathe”).
- delicate (requiring careful handling)
- (Austria) picky (of a person with regard to food)