In Reply to: Re: Pick your brain posted by ESC on May 08, 2008 at 21:42:
: : What is the origin of 'pick your brain' about something?
: I am a vegetarian. But the image I get is someone picking the meat off bones. As in, the remnants of a Thanksgiving dinner.
Yes, rather. The Oxford English Dictionary ahs a rather long article about the verb "pick." My comments here derive from this article, although any mistakes made here should be laid at my door, not theirs.
Almost all the meanings of "to pick" derive directly, or ultimately, from the use of a sharp implement, like a pike or a pick, or the beak of a bird, or the knife and fork used to pick at the Thanksgiving turkey.
Many of the slightly varied meanings of the verb appear quite early in the published history of the language. Early on it was used when the fingernails or fingers were used to "pick at" imperfections in the skin, or on other surfaces, or when the extended fingers were used to steal. The expression "pick [someone's] pockets" appears no later than 1580, and the general use of pick to mean steal is even earlier. In the Book of Common Prayer (edition of 1549) the phrase "picking and stealing" appears more than once, making an association between these two verbs not uncommon then and now.
The generalized meanings of to pick as to gather or obtain, to ransack or rifle, or to rob, leads us to "to pick [someone's] brain (or brains)," meaning to gather information or ideas from someone else's brain to use for our own purposes. Presumably we get into the brain indirectly, either by attending what our brainy victim has written or said, or not infrequently by asking him questions.