early 13c., "ask earnestly, beg," also (c.1300) "pray to a god or saint," from Old French preier "to pray" (c.900, Modern French prier), from Vulgar Latin *precare (also source of Italian pregare), from Latin precari "ask earnestly, beg, entreat," from *prex (plural preces, genitive precis) "prayer, request, entreaty," from PIE root *prek- "to ask, request, entreat" (cf. Sanskrit prasna-, Avestan frashna- "question;" Old Church Slavonic prositi, Lithuanian prasyti "to ask, beg;" Old High German frahen, German fragen, Old English fricgan "to ask" a question).
Parenthetical expression I pray you, "please, if you will," attested from 1510s, contracted to pray 16c. Related: Prayed; praying. Praying mantis attested from 1809. The "Gardener's Monthly" of July 1861 lists other names for it as camel cricket, soothsayer, and rear horse.