- benison (n.)
- c. 1300, "blessing, beatitude," from Old French beneiçon "blessing, benediction," from Latin benedictionem (see benediction).
- masc. proper name, in Old Testament, Jacob's youngest son (Genesis xxxv.18), from Hebrew Binyamin, literally "son of the south," though interpreted in Genesis as "son of the right hand," from ben "son of" + yamin "right hand," also "south" (in an East-oriented culture). Compare Arabic cognate yaman "right hand, right side, south;" yamana "he was happy," literally "he turned to the right."
The right was regarded as auspicious (see left and dexterity). Also see Yemen, southpaw, and compare deasil "rightwise, turned toward the right," from Gaelic deiseil "toward the south; toward the right," from deas "right, right-hand; south." Also compare Sanskrit dakshina "right; south," and Welsh go-gledd "north," literally "left." Slang meaning "money" (by 1999) is from portrait of Benjamin Franklin on U.S. $100 bill.
- bent (n.1)
- "mental inclination," 1570s, probably from earlier literal sense "condition of being deflected or turned" (1530s), from bent (adj.) "not straight" (q.v.).
- bent (n.2)
- "stiff grass," Old English beonet, from West Germanic *binut- "rush, marsh grass" (source also of Old Saxon binet, Old High German binuz, German Binse "rush, reed"), which is of unknown origin. An obsolete word, but surviving in place names (such as Bentley, from Old English Beonet-leah; Bentham).
The verdure of the plain lies buried deep
Beneath the dazzling deluge; and the bents,
And coarser grass, upspearing o'er the rest,
Of late unsightly and unseen, now shine
Conspicuous, and, in bright apparel clad
And fledg'd with icy feathers, nod superb.
[Cowper, "The Winter-Morning Walk," from "The Task"]
- bent (adj.)
- "not straight," late 14c. (earlier ibent, c. 1300, from past participle of bend (v.). Meaning "turned or inclined in some direction" is from 1530s, probably as a translation of Latin inclinatio. Meaning "directed in a course" is from 1690s. Figurative phrase bent out of shape "extremely upset" is 1960s U.S. Air Force and college student slang.
- benthos (n.)
- "life forms of the deep ocean and sea floor," 1891, coined by Haeckel from Greek benthos "depth of the sea," related to bathos "depth," bathys "deep, high;" probably Indo-European, but of unknown origin. Adjective benthic is attested from 1902.
- benumb (v.)
- late 15c., from be- + numb. Originally of mental states; of the physical body from 1520s. Related: Benumbed; benumbing.
- Benzedrine (n.)
- trade name of a type of amphetamine, 1933, registered as a proprietary name 1935 by Smith, Kline & French Laboratories, from benzoic (see benzene) + chemical suffix -edrine from ephedrine, etc. It is a carbonate of benzyl-methyl-carbinamine. Slang shortening benny first attested 1955.
- benzene (n.)
- 1835, benzine, altered from German Benzin, coined in 1833 by German chemist Eilhardt Mitscherlich (1794-1863) from Benz(oesäure) "benzoic acid" + -in, indicating "derived from" (see -ine (2)). Mitscherlich obtained it from a distillation of benzoic acid, obtained from benzoin. The form benzene (with hydrocarbon suffix -ene), proposed in 1835, began to be used from 1838 in English, but in mid-19c. it also commonly was called benzol.
- benzine (n.)
- see benzene.
- benzodiazepine (n.)
- 1934, from benzo-, word-forming element used in chemistry to indicate presence of a benzene ring fused with another ring, + di + azo- + epine, a suffix denoting a seven-membered ring, from (h)ep(ta) (see seven).
- benzoic (adj.)
- 1791, from benzoin + -ic.
- benzoin (n.)
- balsamic resin obtained from a tree (Styrax benzoin) of Indonesia, 1560s (earlier as bengewine, 1550s), from Middle French benjoin (16c.), which comes via Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian from Arabic luban jawi "incense of Java" (actually Sumatra, with which the Arabs confused it), with lu probably mistaken in Romance languages for a definite article. The English form with -z- is perhaps from influence of Italian benzoi (Venetian, 1461).
- Old English beo wulf, literally "bee-wolf," "a wolf to bees;" a kenning for "bear." See bee (n.) + wolf (n.).
- bepester (v.)
- c. 1600, from be- + pester (v.). Related: Bepestered; bepestering.
- bepuzzle (v.)
- 1826, from be- + puzzle (v.). Related: Bepuzzled; bepuzzling.
- bequeath (v.)
- Old English becweðan "to say, speak to, exhort, blame," also "leave by will;" from be- + cweðan "to say," from Proto-Germanic *kwethan, from PIE *gwet- "to say, speak."
Original sense of "say, utter" died out 13c., leaving legal sense of "transfer by will." Closely related to bequest. "An old word kept alive in wills" [OED 1st ed.]. Old English bequeðere meant "interpreter, translator." Related: Bequeathed; bequeathing.
- bequest (n.)
- c. 1300, "act of bequeathing," from be- + *cwis, *cwiss "saying" (related to quoth; from Proto-Germanic *kwessiz; see bequeath), with unetymological -t. Meaning "that which is bequeathed" is recorded from late 15c.
- berate (v.)
- 1540s, from be- "thoroughly" + Middle English rate "to scold" (late 14c.), from Old French reter "accuse, blame," from Latin reputare (see reputation). "Obsolete except in U.S." [OED 1st ed.], but it seems to have revived in Britain 20c. Related: Berated; berating.
- 1820 (n.); 1832 (adj.), from Arabic name for the peoples living west of Egypt; perhaps ultimately from Greek barbaros "barbarians" (see Barbary).
- berceuse (n.)
- "cradle song," 1876, from French berceuse "cradle-song, woman who rocks an infant," from bercer "to rock" (Old French bercier "to rock" a child in a cradle, 12c.) + fem. agent suffix -euse.
- bereave (v.)
- Old English bereafian "to deprive of, take away, seize, rob," from be + reafian "rob, plunder," from Proto-Germanic *raubojanan, from PIE *reup- "to snatch" (see rapid). A common Germanic formation (compare Old Frisian birava "despoil," Old Saxon biroban, Dutch berooven, Old High German biroubon, German berauben, Gothic biraubon). Since mid-17c., mostly in reference to life, hope, loved ones, and other immaterial possessions. Past tense forms bereaved and bereft have co-existed since 14c., now slightly differentiated in meaning, the former applied to loss of loved ones, the latter to circumstances.
- bereavement (n.)
- 1731, from bereave + -ment.
- bereft (adj.)
- late 14c., past participle adjective from bereave (v.).
- fem. proper name, from Latin Berenice, from Macedonian Greek Berenike (classical Greek Pherenike), literally "bringer of victory," from pherein "to bring" (from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry") + nike "victory" (see Nike).
The constellation Berenice's hair is from the story of the pilfered locks of the wife of Ptolemy Euergetes, king of Egypt, c. 248 B.C.E., which the queen cut off as an offering to Venus. The constellation features a dim but visible star cluster. But the earliest use of the phrase in astronomy in English was as a name for the star Canopus (1601).
- beret (n.)
- also berret, 1827, from French béret, 19c., from dialect of Béarn, from Old Gascon berret "cap," from Medieval Latin birretum, diminutive of Late Latin birrus "a large hooded cloak," perhaps of Gaulish origin. The round, flat cap originally was worn by Basque peasants.
- Beretta (n.)
- Italian firearms manufacturer, business attested from 1520s, founded by gunsmith Bartolomeo Beretta (1498-1565) of Lombardy.
- berg (n.)
- short for iceberg, attested from 1823.
- bergamot (n.)
- type of citrus tree, also its fruit, both similar to bitter orange, and the essence prepared from the oil of the rind of the fruit, 1690s, from French bergamote (17c.), from Italian bergamotta, named for Bergamo, town in Italy. The name is Roman Bergamum, from a Celtic or Ligurian berg "mountain," cognate with the identical Germanic word.
Earlier (1610s) as a kind of pear deemed especially luscious, in this sense ultimately a Romanic folk-etymologization from Turkish beg-armudi "prince's pear" or "prince of pears," influenced in form by the other word, but probably not from it (the town is on the opposite end of the peninsula from where the pear grows). Also used of garden plants of the mint order with a smell like that of oil of bergamot.
- beriberi (n.)
- also beri-beri, paralytic disease prevalent in much of India, 1703, literally "great weakness," intensifying reduplication of Sinhalese beri "weakness."
- strait and sea between Alaska and Siberia, named for Danish explorer Vitus Bering (1681-1741), who worked for Peter the Great and led the first European expedition to sight Alaska, in 1741.
- berk (n.)
- "fool," 1936, abbreviation of Berkshire Hunt (or Berkeley Hunt), rhyming slang for cunt but typically applied only to contemptible persons, not to the body part.
This is not an objective, anatomical term, neither does it imply coitus. It connects with that extension of meaning of the unprintable, a fool, or a person whom one does not like. ["Dictionary of Rhyming Slang," 1960]
- Old English Bearrocscir (893), from an ancient Celtic name meaning "hilly place" + Old English scir "shire, district."
- city in Brandenburg, capital of Germany, traditionally by folk-etymology from German Bär "bear," but likely from a Slavic source, compare Old Polabian berl-, birl- "swamp," in reference to the old city's location on low, marshy ground along the River Spree. A flashpoint city in the Cold War, the Berlin airlift ran from June 28, 1948 to May 12, 1949. The Berlin Wall began to be built Aug. 15, 1961, and was effective until Nov. 9, 1989.
- berlin (n.)
- old type of four-wheeled covered carriage, 1690s, so called because it was introduced in Brandenburg, c. 1670; see Berlin. Hence berline (from the French form) "automobile with a glass partition behind the driver's seat." In reference to a type of wool and the popular patterns made for it, from 1841.
- berm (n.)
- "narrow ledge," 1729, from French berme (17c.), from Old Dutch baerm "edge of a dike," probably related to brim (q.v.). In U.S., 19c., also the name for the bank of a canal opposite the tow path.
- Atlantic island, named for Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez (d.1570), who discovered it c. 1515. Bermuda shorts first attested 1946 (in "The Princeton Alumni Weekly"), from the type of garb worn by U.S. tourists there. Bermuda triangle in the supernatural sense was popular from 1972. As the adjective form, Bermudian (1777) holds seniority over Bermudan (1895).
- Swiss capital, probably originally from PIE root *ber- "marshy place," but by folk etymology from German Bär "bear" (compare Berlin). Related: Bernese.
- masc. proper name, from German Bernhard, literally "bold as a bear," from Old High German bero "bear" (see bear (n.)) + harti "hard, bold, strong" (see hard (adj.)).
- Anglo-Saxon kingdom in northernmost England, founded by mid-6c., eventually merged into Northumbria; the name evidently is a survival of a pre-invasion Celtic name, perhaps that represented by Welsh Bryneich.
- Bernoulli's principle
- named for Dutch mathematician Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782), who published it in 1738.
- berry (n.)
- Old English berie, from Proto-Germanic *basjom (source also of Old Norse ber, Middle Dutch bere, German Beere "berry;" Old Saxon winber, Gothic weinabasi "grape"), which is of unknown origin. This and apple are the only native fruit names.
- berserk (adj.)
- 1844, from berserk (n.) "Norse warrior," by 1835, an alternative form of berserker (1822), a word which was introduced by Sir Walter Scott, from Old Norse berserkr (n.) "raging warrior of superhuman strength;" probably from *ber- "bear" + serkr "shirt," thus literally "a warrior clothed in bearskin." Thus not from Old Norse berr "bare, naked."
Thorkelin, in the essay on the Berserkir, appended to his edition of the Krisini Saga, tells that an old name of the Berserk frenzy was hamremmi, i.e., strength acquired from another strange body, because it was anciently believed that the persons who were liable to this frenzy were mysteriously endowed, during its accesses, with a strange body of unearthly strength. If, however, the Berserk was called on by his own name, he lost his mysterious form, and his ordinary strength alone remained. ["Notes and Queries," Dec. 28, 1850]
The adjectival use probably is from such phrases as berserk frenzy, or as a title (Arngrim the Berserk).
- berserker (n.)
- alternative form of berserk (q.v.), from Old Norse berserkr, accusative of berserk. This is the oldest form of the word in its revival in Modern English (1822), and perhaps Scott, who introduced it, mistook the -r for an agent-noun suffix. Further complicated because it has the form of the Old Norse plural, and English berserker sometimes is plural.
- berth (n.)
- 1620s, "convenient sea room" (both for ships and sailors), of uncertain origin, probably from bear (v.) + abstract noun suffix -th (2) as in strength, health, etc. Original sense is preserved in phrase to give (something or someone) wide berth. Meaning "place on a ship to stow chests, room for sailors" is from 1706; extended to non-nautical situations by 1778.
- berth (v.)
- 1660s, of ships, from berth (n.). Of persons (intransitive), from 1886. Related: Berthed; berthing.
- fem. proper name, from Old High German Berahta, Perahta, the name of a goddess, literally "the bright one," from Old High German beraht, related to Old English beorht (see bright). Soldiers' nickname Big Bertha for large-bore German mortar of World War I is a reference to Frau Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, owner of Krupp steel works 1903-43.
- beryl (n.)
- hard, lustrous mineral, c. 1300, from Old French beryl (12c., Modern French béryl), from Latin beryllus, from Greek beryllos, perhaps from Prakrit veruliya, from Sanskrit vaidurya-, of Dravidian origin, perhaps from the city of Velur (modern Belur) in southern India.
Medieval Latin berillus also was applied to any precious stone of a pale green color, to fine crystal, and to eyeglasses (the first spectacle lenses may have been made of beryl), hence German Brille "spectacles," from Middle High German berille "beryl," and French besicles (plural) "spectacles," altered 14c. from Old French bericle.
- beryllium (n.)
- metallic element, 1863, so called because it figures in the composition of the pale green precious stone beryl and was identified in emerald (green beryl) in 1797 by French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin (1763-1829) and first isolated in 1828. With metallic element ending -ium. At first and through 19c. also sometimes called glucinum or glucinium.
- beseech (v.)
- late 12c., bisecen "to beseech, beg urgently," from be- + Middle English secen "to seek" (see seek). German cognate besuchen is merely "to visit." Related: Besought; beseeching.