- see B.B.C.
- abbreviation of barbecue, by 1956, American English.
- see B.C.E.
- be (v.)
- Old English beon, beom, bion "be, exist, come to be, become, happen," from Proto-Germanic *biju- "I am, I will be." This "b-root" is from PIE root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow, come into being," and in addition to the words in English it yielded German present first and second person singular (bin, bist, from Old High German bim "I am," bist "thou art"), Latin perfective tenses of esse (fui "I was," etc.), Old Church Slavonic byti "be," Greek phu- "become," Old Irish bi'u "I am," Lithuanian bu'ti "to be," Russian byt' "to be," etc. It also is behind Sanskrit bhavah "becoming," bhavati "becomes, happens," bhumih "earth, world."
The modern verb to be in its entirety represents the merger of two once-distinct verbs, the "b-root" represented by be and the am/was verb, which was itself a conglomerate. Roger Lass ("Old English") describes the verb as "a collection of semantically related paradigm fragments," while Weekley calls it "an accidental conglomeration from the different Old English dial[ect]s." It is the most irregular verb in Modern English and the most common. Collective in all Germanic languages, it has eight different forms in Modern English:
BE (infinitive, subjunctive, imperative)
AM (present 1st person singular)
ARE (present 2nd person singular and all plural)
IS (present 3rd person singular)
WAS (past 1st and 3rd persons singular)
WERE (past 2nd person singular, all plural; subjunctive)
BEING (progressive & present participle; gerund)
BEEN (perfect participle).
The paradigm in Old English was:
|1st pres.||ic eom|
|2nd pres.||þu eart|
|3rd pres.||he is|
|1st pret.||ic wæs||we wæron|
|2nd pret.||þu wære||ge waeron|
|3rd pret.||heo wæs||hie wæron|
|1st pret. subj.||ic wære||we wæren|
|2nd pret. subj.||þu wære||ge wæren|
|3rd pret. subj.||Egcferð wære||hie wæren|
The "b-root" had no past tense in Old English, but often served as future tense of am/was. In 13c. it took the place of the infinitive, participle and imperative forms of am/was. Later its plural forms (we beth, ye ben, they be) became standard in Middle English and it made inroads into the singular (I be, thou beest, he beth), but forms of are claimed this turf in the 1500s and replaced be in the plural. For the origin and evolution of the am/was branches of this tangle, see am and was.
That but this blow Might be the be all, and the end all. ["Macbeth" I.vii.5]
- word-forming element with a wide range of meaning: "thoroughly, completely; to make, cause seem; to provide with; at, on, to, for," from Old English be- "on all sides" (also used to make transitive verbs and as a privative or intensive prefix), from weak form of Old English bi "by," probably cognate with second syllable of Greek amphi, Latin ambi and originally meaning "about" (see ambi-).
This sense naturally drifted into intensive (as in bespatter "spatter about," therefore "spatter very much"). Be- can also be privative (as in behead), causative, or have just about any sense required. The prefix was productive 16c.-17c. in forming useful words, many of which have not survived, such as bethwack "to thrash soundly" (1550s), betongue "to assail in speech, to scold" (1630s).
- be-all (n.)
- see be.
- be-in (n.)
- "a public gathering of hippies" [OED], 1967, from be + in.
- beach (n.)
- 1530s, "loose, water-worn pebbles of the seashore," probably from Old English bæce, bece "stream," from Proto-Germanic *bakiz. Extended to loose, pebbly shores (1590s), and in dialect around Sussex and Kent beach still has the meaning "pebbles worn by the waves." French grève shows the same evolution. Beach ball first recorded 1940; beach bum first recorded 1950.
- beach (v.)
- "to haul or run up on a beach," 1840, from beach (n.). Related: Beached; beaching.
- beach-comber (n.)
- 1840, from beach (n.) + agent noun from comb (v.).
- beachfront (adj.)
- also beach-front, 1903, American English, from beach (n.) + front (n.). The beach front was a standard way in late 19c. to express "the seashore of a town" such as Atlantic City.
- beachhead (n.)
- 1940, in reference to German military tactics in World War II, from beach (n.) + head (n.), on the model of bridgehead, but the image doesn't quite work.
- beacon (n.)
- Old English beacen "sign, portent, lighthouse," from West Germanic *baukna "beacon, signal" (source also of Old Frisian baken, Old Saxon bokan, Old High German bouhhan); not found outside Germanic. Perhaps borrowed from Latin bucina "a crooked horn or trumpet, signal horn." But more likely from PIE *bhew-, a variant of the base *bha- (1) "to gleam, shine" (see phantasm). Figurative use from c. 1600.
- bead (n.)
- mid-14c., bede "prayer bead," from Old English gebed "prayer," with intensive or collective prefix *ge- + Proto-Germanic *bidam "entreaty" (source also of Middle Dutch bede, Old High German beta, German bitte, Gothic bida "prayer, request"), from PIE *gwhedh- "to ask, pray."
Shift in meaning came via beads threaded on a string to count prayers, and in phrases like to bid one's beads, to count one's beads. German cognate Bitte is the usual word for conversational request "please." Also related to bid (Old English biddan) and Gothic bidjan "to ask, pray." Sense transferred to "drop of liquid" 1590s; to "small knob forming front sight of a gun" 1831 (Kentucky slang); hence draw a bead on "take aim at," 1841, U.S. colloquial.
- bead (v.)
- 1570s, "to adorn with beads," from bead (n.). Meaning "to string like beads" is from 1883. Related: Beaded; beading.
- beadle (n.)
- Old English bydel "herald, messenger from an authority, preacher," from beodan "to proclaim" (see bid). Sense of "warrant officer, tipstaff" was in late Old English; that of "petty parish officer," which has given the job a bad reputation, is from 1590s. French bédeau (Old French bedel, 12c.) is a Germanic loan-word.
- beadsman (n.)
- "one who prays for another's benefit," early 13c.; see bead (n.) + man (n.).
- beady (adj.)
- in reference to eyes, 1826, from bead (n.) + -y (2). Related: Beadily; beadiness.
- beagle (n.)
- late 15c., of unknown origin, possibly from French becguele "noisy person," literally "gaping throat," from bayer "open wide" (see bay (n.2)) + gueule "mouth" (see gullet).
- beak (n.)
- mid-13c., "bird's bill," from Old French bec "beak," figuratively "mouth," also "tip or point of a nose, a lance, a ship, a shoe," from Latin beccus (source also of Italian becco, Spanish pico), said by Suetonius ("De vita Caesarum" 18) to be of Gaulish origin, perhaps from Gaulish beccus, possibly related to Celtic stem bacc- "hook." Or there may be a link in Old English becca "pickax, sharp end." Jocular sense of "human nose" is from 1854 (but also was used mid-15c. in the same sense).
- beaker (n.)
- "open large-mouthed vessel," mid-14c., from Old Norse bikarr or Middle Dutch beker "goblet," probably (with Old Saxon bikeri, Old High German behhari, German Becher) from Medieval Latin bicarium, which itself is probably a diminutive of Greek bikos "earthenware jug, wine jar" (said to be an oriental word, perhaps a borrowing from Syrian buqa "a two-handed vase or jug"). Form assimilated in English to beak.
- beal (n.)
- "mouth of a river or valley," 1818 (in Scott), from Gaelic beul "mouth."
- beam (n.)
- Old English beam originally "living tree," but by late 10c. also "rafter, post, ship's timber," from Proto-Germanic *baumaz (source also of Old Norse baðmr, Old Frisian bam "tree, gallows, beam," Middle Dutch boom, Old High German boum, German Baum "tree," Gothic bagms), perhaps from PIE verb root *bheue- "to grow" (see be). The shift from *-au- to -ea- is regular in Old English.
Meaning "ray of light" developed in Old English, probably because it was used by Bede to render Latin columna lucis, the Biblical "pillar of fire." Nautical sense of "one of the horizontal transverse timbers holding a ship together" is from early 13c., hence "greatest breadth of a ship," and slang broad in the beam "wide-hipped" (of persons). To be on the beam (1941) was originally an aviator's term for "to follow the course indicated by a radio beam."
- beam (v.)
- "emit rays of light," early 15c., from beam (n.) in the "ray of light" sense. Sense of "to smile radiantly" is from 1804; that of "to direct radio transmissions" is from 1927. Related: Beamed; beaming.
- beamish (adj.)
- 1530 (Palsgrave), from beam + -ish. Lewis Carroll may have thought he was inventing it in "Jabberwocky."
- bean (n.)
- Old English bean "bean, pea, legume," from Proto-Germanic *bauno (source also of Old Norse baun, Middle Dutch bone, Dutch boon, Old High German bona, German Bohne), and related to Latin faba "bean;" Greek phakos "lentil;" Albanian bathë "horse-bean;" Old Prussian babo, Russian bob "bean," but the original form is obscure; perhaps from a PIE reduplicated base *bha-bha-
As a metaphor for "something of small value" it is attested from c. 1300. Meaning "head" is U.S. baseball slang c. 1905 (in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head"); thus slang verb bean meaning "to hit on the head," attested from 1910.
The notion of lucky or magic beans in English folklore is from the exotic beans or large seeds that wash up occasionally in Cornwall and western Scotland, carried from the Caribbean or South America by the Gulf Stream. They were cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.
Slang bean-counter "accountant" recorded by 1971. To not know beans (American English, 1933) is perhaps from the "of little worth" sense, but may have a connection to colloquial expression recorded around Somerset, to know how many beans make five "be a clever fellow."
- bean bag (n.)
- also bean-bag, 1871 as a device in children's games, 1969 as a type of chair. From bean (n.) + bag (n.).
- beanery (n.)
- "cheap restaurant," 1884, American English, from bean (n.) + -ery.
- beanie (n.)
- "small, close-fitting hat," 1940, from bean (n.) in the slang sense of "head" + -ie.
- beano (n.)
- 1888, colloquial shortening of beanfest "annual dinner given by employers for their workers" (1805); they had a reputation for rowdiness. From bean (n.) + fest (n.).
- bear (v.)
- Old English beran "to bear, bring; bring forth, produce; to endure, sustain; to wear" (class IV strong verb; past tense bær, past participle boren), from Proto-Germanic *beran (source also of Old Saxon beran, Old Frisian bera, Old High German beran, German gebären, Old Norse bera, Gothic bairan "to carry, bear, give birth to"), from PIE root *bher- (1) meaning both "give birth" (though only English and German strongly retain this sense, and Russian has beremennaya "pregnant") and "carry a burden, bring" (see phoresy).
Ball bearings "bear" the friction. Many senses are from notion of "move onward by pressure." Old English past tense bær became Middle English bare; alternative bore began to appear c. 1400, but bare remained the literary form till after 1600. Past participle distinction of borne for "carried" and born for "given birth" is from late 18c. To bear (something) in mind is from 1530s.
- bear (n.)
- Old English bera "bear," from Proto-Germanic *beron, literally "the brown (one)" (source also of Old Norse björn, Middle Dutch bere, Dutch beer, Old High German bero, German Bär), a taboo replace,ent, usually said to be from PIE *bher- (3) "bright, brown" (see brown (adj.)).
Greek arktos and Latin ursus retain the PIE root word for "bear" (*rtko; see Arctic), but it is believed to have been ritually replaced in the northern branches because of hunters' taboo on names of wild animals (compare the Irish equivalent "the good calf," Welsh "honey-pig," Lithuanian "the licker," Russian medved "honey-eater"). Others connect the Germanic word with Latin ferus "wild," as if it meant "the wild animal (par excellence) of the northern woods."
Symbolic of Russia since 1794. Used of uncouth persons since 1570s. Stock market meaning "speculator for a fall" is 1709 shortening of bearskin jobber (from the proverb sell the bearskin before one has caught the bear); i.e. "one who sells stock for future delivery, expecting that meanwhile prices will fall." Paired with bull from c. 1720. Bear claw as a type of large pastry is from 1942, originally chiefly western U.S.
- bear hug (n.)
- 1876, from bear (n.) + hug (n.).
- bearable (adj.)
- "endurable," mid-15c., from bear (v.) + -able. Related: Bearably.
- beard (n.)
- Old English beard "beard," from West Germanic *barthaz (source also of Old Frisian berd, Middle Dutch baert, Old High German bart, German bart), seemingly from PIE *bhardh-a- "beard" (source also of Old Church Slavonic brada, Lithuanian barzda, and perhaps Latin barba "beard").
The Greek and Roman Churches have long disputed about the beard. While the Romanists have at different times practised shaving, the Greeks, on the contrary, have strenuously defended the cause of long beards. Leo III. (795 AD) was the first shaved Pope. Pope Gregory IV., after the lapse of only 30 years, fulminated a Bull against bearded priests. In the 12th century the prescription of the beard was extended to the laity. Pope Honorius III. to disguise his disfigured lip, allowed his beard to grow. Henry I. of England was so much moved by a sermon directed against his beard that he resigned it to the barber. Frederick Barbarossa is said to have been equally tractable. [Tom Robinson, M.D., "Beards," "St. James's Magazine," 1881]
Pubic hair sense is from 1600s (but neþir berd "pubic hair" is from late 14c.); in the 1811 "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," the phrase beard-splitter is defined as, "A man much given to wenching" (compare beaver in the slang genital sense).
- beard (v.)
- c. 1300, "to grow or have a beard," from beard (n.). The sense of "confront boldly and directly" is from Middle English phrases such as rennen in berd "oppose openly" (c. 1200), reproven in the berd "to rebuke directly and personally" (c. 1400), on the same notion as modern slang get in (someone's) face. Related: Bearded; bearding.
- beardless (adj.)
- early 14c., from beard (n.) + -less.
- bearer (n.)
- Old English -berere (in water-berere), agent noun from bear (v.). Meaning "one who helps carry a corpse to the grave" is from 1630s.
- bearing (n.)
- "carrying of oneself, deportment," mid-13c., verbal noun from bear (v.). Mechanical sense of "part of a machine that bears the friction" is from 1791.
- bearings (n.)
- "parts of a machine which 'bear' the friction," 1791, from present participle of bear (v.). Meaning "direction from a point of reference" is from 1630s; to take (one's) bearings is from 1711.
- bearish (adj.)
- "grumpy, surly," 1744, from bear (n.) + -ish. Related: Bearishly; bearishness.
- Bearnaise (n.)
- "egg-and-butter sauce," 1877, from French sauce béarnaise, from fem. of béarnais "of Béarn," region in southwest France (named for the Benarni, a Gaulish tribe).
- bearskin (n.)
- from bear (n.) + skin (n.).
- beast (n.)
- c. 1200, from Old French beste "animal, wild beast," figuratively "fool, idiot" (11c., Modern French bête), from Vulgar Latin *besta, from Latin bestia "beast, wild animal," which is of unknown origin. Used to translate Latin animal. Replaced Old English deor (see deer) as the generic word for "wild creature," only to be ousted 16c. by animal. Of persons felt to be animal-like in various senses from early 13c. Of the figure in the Christian apocalypse story from late 14c.
- beastly (adj.)
- c. 1200, "brutish, sensual, debased;" late 14c., "in the manner of a beast," from beast + -ly (1). Weakened in British upper crust use to "awfully, exceedingly" by mid-19c. Beastly drunk is from 1803.
- beat (v.)
- Old English beatan "inflict blows on, thrash" (class VII strong verb; past tense beot, past participle beaten), from Proto-Germanic *bautan (source also of Old Norse bauta, Old High German bozan "to beat"), from PIE root *bhau- "to strike" (see batter (v.)). Of the heart, c. 1200, from notion of it striking against the breast. Meaning "to overcome in a contest" is from 1610s (the source of the sense of "legally avoid, escape" in beat the charges, etc., attested from c. 1920 in underworld slang).
Past tense beat is from c. 1500, probably not from Old English but a shortening of Middle English beted. Dead-beat (originally "tired-out") preserves the old past participle. Meaning "strike cover to rouse or drive game" (c. 1400) is source of beat around the bush (1570s), the metaphoric sense of which has shifted from "make preliminary motions" to "avoid, evade." Command beat it "go away" first recorded 1906 (though "action of feet upon the ground" was a sense of Old English betan). To beat off "masturbate" is recorded by 1960s. For beat generation see beatnik.
- beat (adj.)
- "defeated, overcome by effort," c. 1400, from past tense of beat (v.). Meaning "tired, exhausted," is by 1905, American English.
- beat (n.)
- c. 1300, "a beating, whipping; the beating of a drum," from beat (v.). As "throb of the heart" from 1755. Meaning "regular route travelled by someone" is attested from 1731, also "a track made by animals" (1736), from the sense of the "beat" of the feet on the ground (late Old English), or perhaps that in beat the bushes to flush game (c. 1400), or beat the bounds (1560s). Extended to journalism by 1875. Musical sense is by 1842, perhaps from the motion of the conductor and the notion of "beating the time":
It is usual, in beating the time of a piece of music, to mark or signalize the commencement of every measure by a downward movement or beat of the hand, or of any other article that may be used for the purpose .... ["Godfrey Weber's General Music Teacher," 1842]
Earlier in music it meant a sort of grace note:
BEAT, in music, a transient grace note, struck immediately before the note it is intended to ornament. The beat always lies half a note beneath its principal, and should be heard so closely upon it, that they may almost seem to be struck together. ["The British Encyclopedia," London, 1809]
- beat up (v.)
- "thrash, strike repeatedly," c. 1900 (v.), from beat (v.). Beat-up as an adjectival phrase meaning "worn-out" dates to 1946.
- beatable (adj.)
- 1610s, from beat (v.) + -able.