- backwardness (n.)
- 1580s, from backward + -ness.
- backwards (adv.)
- 1510s, from backward with adverbial genitive -s. Figurative phrase bend over backwards is recorded from 1901.
- backwash (n.)
- 1876, "motion of a receding wave;" see back (adv.) + wash (v.).
- backwater (n.)
- also back-water, late 14c., "water behind a dam," from back (adj.) + water (n.1). Hence flat water without a current near a flowing river, as in a mill race (1820); figurative use of this for any flat, dull place is from 1879.
- backwoods (n.)
- "wooded or partially uncleared and unsettled districts in remote regions," 1709, North American English; see back (adj.) + wood (n.) in the sense "forested tract." As an adjective, from 1784.
BACKWOODSMEN. ... This word is commonly used as a term of reproach (and that, only in a familiar style,) to designate those people, who, being at a distance from the sea and entirely agricultural, are considered as either hostile or indifferent to the interests of the commercial states. [John Pickering, "A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases Which Have Been Supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America," Boston, 1816]
- backyard (n.)
- also back-yard, "plot of ground at the rear of a house," 1650s (perhaps early 15c.), from back (adj.) + yard (n.1).
- bacon (n.)
- early 14c., "meat from the back and sides of a hog" (originally either fresh or cured, but especially cured), from Old French bacon, from Proto-Germanic *bakkon "back meat" (source also of Old High German bahho, Old Dutch baken "bacon"). Slang phrase bring home the bacon first recorded 1908; bacon formerly being the staple meat of the working class and the rural population (in Shakespeare bacon is a derisive term for "a rustic").
- bacteria (n.)
- 1847, plural of Modern Latin bacterium, from Greek bakterion "small staff," diminutive of baktron "stick, rod, staff, cudgel," from PIE *bak- "staff used for support" (also source of Latin baculum "rod, walking stick"). So called because the first ones observed were rod-shaped. Introduced as a scientific word 1838 by German naturalist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795-1876).
- bacterial (adj.)
- "of or pertaining to bacteria," 1869, from bacteria + -al (1).
- bacteriology (n.)
- "scientific study of microbes," 1884, from German; see bacteria + -ology. Related: Bacteriological (1886); bacteriologist. Bacteriological warfare is from 1924.
- bacteriophage (n.)
- 1921, from French bactériophage (1917), from bacterio-, comb. form of bacteria, + -phage.
- bacterium (n.)
- c. 1848, singular of bacteria (q.v.).
- late 14c., "inhabitant of Bactria," ancient region in what is now northwestern Afghanistan; as a type of camel c. 1600; from Latin Bactria, from Persian, literally "the western province," from bakhtar "the west."
- bad (adj.)
- c. 1300, "inadequate, unsatisfactory, worthless; unfortunate;" late 14c., "wicked, evil, vicious; counterfeit;" from 13c. in surnames (William Badde, Petri Badde, Asketinus Baddecheese, Rads Badinteheved). Rare before 1400, and evil was more common until c. 1700 as the ordinary antithesis of good. It has no apparent relatives in other languages.* Possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its diminutive bædling "effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast," which probably are related to bædan "to defile."
The orig. word, AS. bæddel, ME. baddel, on account of its sinister import, is scarcely found in literature, but, like other words of similar sense, it prob. flourished in vulgar speech as an indefinite term of abuse, and at length, divested of its original meaning, emerged in literary use as a mere adj., badde, equiv. to the older evil. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Comparable words in the other Indo-European languages tend to have grown from descriptions of specific qualities, such as "ugly," "defective," "weak," "faithless," "impudent," "crooked," "filthy" (such as Greek kakos, probably from the word for "excrement;" Russian plochoj, related to Old Church Slavonic plachu "wavering, timid;" Persian gast, Old Persian gasta-, related to gand "stench;" German schlecht, originally "level, straight, smooth," whence "simple, ordinary," then "bad").
Comparative and superlative forms badder, baddest were common 14c.-18c. and used as recently as Defoe (but not by Shakespeare), but yielded to comparative worse and superlative worst (which had belonged to evil and ill).
Meaning "uncomfortable, sorry" is 1839, American English colloquial. To go bad "putrefy" is from 1884. Not bad "fairly good" is by 1771. Ironic use as a word of approval is said to be at least since 1890s orally, originally in African-American vernacular, emerging in print 1928 in a jazz context. It might have emerged from the ambivalence of expressions like bad nigger, used as a term of reproach by whites, but among blacks sometimes representing one who stood up to injustice, but in the U.S. West bad man also had a certain ambivalence:
These are the men who do most of the killing in frontier communities, yet it is a noteworthy fact that the men who are killed generally deserve their fate. [Farmer & Henley]
*Farsi has bad in more or less the same sense as the English word, but this is regarded by linguists as a coincidence. The forms of the words diverge as they are traced back in time (Farsi bad comes from Middle Persian vat), and such accidental convergences exist across many languages, given the vast number of words in each and the limited range of sounds humans can make to signify them. Among other coincidental matches with English are Korean mani "many," Chinese pei "pay," Nahuatl (Aztecan) huel "well," Maya hol "hole."
- bad (n.)
- late 14c., "evil, wickedness," from bad (adj.).
- bad-ass (n.)
- also badass, "tough guy," 1950s U.S. slang, from bad (adj.) + ass (n.2).
- bad-mouth (v.)
- "abuse (someone) verbally," 1941, probably ultimately from noun phrase bad mouth (1835), in African-American vernacular, "a curse, spell," translating an idiom found in African and West Indian languages. See bad (adj.) + mouth (n.). Related: Bad-mouthed; bad-mouthing.
- badder (adj.)
- obsolete or colloquial comparative of bad (adj.), common 14c.-18c.
- baddest (adj.)
- obsolete or colloquial superlative of bad (adj.), common 14c.-18c.
- baddish (adj.)
- "rather bad," 1755, from bad (adj.) + -ish.
- baddy (n.)
- "bad man, criminal, disreputable person," 1937, from bad (adj.) + -y (3).
- Old English bæd, past tense of bid (v.).
- badge (n.)
- mid-14c., "token worn to indicate the wearer's occupation, preference, etc.," especially "device worn by servants or followers to indicate their allegiance," perhaps from Anglo-French bage or from Anglo-Latin bagis, plural of bagia "emblem," all of unknown origin. Figurative sense "mark or token" of anything is by 1520s.
- badger (n.)
- type of low, nocturnal, burrowing, carnivorous animal, 1520s, perhaps from bage "badge" (see badge) + reduced form of -ard "one who carries some action or possesses some quality," suffix related to Middle High German -hart "bold" (see -ard). If so, the central notion is the badge-like white blaze on the animal's forehead (as in French blaireau "badger," from Old French blarel, from bler "marked with a white spot;" also obsolete Middle English bauson "badger," from Old French bauzan, literally "black-and-white spotted"). But blaze (n.2) was the usual word for this.
Old English names for the creature were the Celtic borrowing brock; also græg (Middle English grei, grey). In American English, the nickname of inhabitants or natives of Wisconsin (1833).
- badger (v.)
- "to attack persistently, worry, pester," 1790, from badger (n.), based on the behavior of the dogs in the medieval sport of badger-baiting, still practiced in late 19c. England as an attraction to low public houses. Related: Badgered; badgering.
A badger is put into a barrel, and one or more dogs are put in to drag him out. When this is effected he is returned to his barrel, to be similarly assailed by a fresh set of dogs. The badger usually makes a most determined and savage resistance. [Century Dictionary]
- badinage (n.)
- "light railery, playful banter," 1650s, from French badinage "playfulness, jesting," from badiner (v.) "to jest, joke," from badin "silly, jesting" (16c.), from Old Provençal badar "to yawn, gape," from Late Latin badare "to gape," from *bat- "to yawn" (see abash). One who indulges in it is a badineur.
- badlands (n.)
- "arid, highly eroded regions of the upper midwestern U.S.," 1850, from bad (adj.) + land (n.). Translating French Canadian Mauvaises Terres, a trapper's word, in reference to the difficulty of traversing them. Applied to urban districts of crime and vice since 1892 (originally with reference to Chicago).
- badly (adv.)
- c. 1300, "unluckily;" late 14c., "wickedly, evilly; poorly, inadequately," from bad (adj.) + -ly (2). By 1814 as "incorrectly;" meaning "very much" is by 1849, American English.
- badminton (n.)
- outdoor game similar to lawn tennis but played with a shuttlecock, 1874, from Badminton House, name of Gloucestershire estate of the Duke of Beaufort, where the game first was played in England, mid-19c., having been picked up by British officers from Indian poona. The place name is Old English Badimyncgtun (972), "estate of (a man called) Baduhelm."
- badness (n.)
- "state of being evil, wrong, improper, deficient in quality, etc.," late 14c., baddenesse; see bad (adj.) + -ness.
- Baedeker (n.)
- "travel guide," 1857, from German printer and bookseller Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) whose popular travel guides began the custom of rating places with one to four stars. The Baedeker raids by the Luftwaffe in April and May 1942 targeted British cultural and historical sites.
- baffle (v.)
- 1540s, "to disgrace," of uncertain origin. Perhaps a Scottish respelling of bauchle "to disgrace publicly" (especially a perjured knight), which is probably related to French bafouer "to abuse, hoodwink" (16c.), possibly from baf, a natural sound of disgust, like bah (compare German baff machen "to flabbergast"). The original sense is obsolete. Meaning "defeat someone's efforts, frustrate by interposing obstacles or difficulties" is from 1670s. Related: Baffled; baffling.
- baffle (n.)
- "shielding device," especially in a stove or oven, 1881, from baffle (v.). Earlier in the same sense was baffler (1861).
- bafflement (n.)
- "state of being baffled," 1841, from baffle (v.) + -ment.
- baffling (adj.)
- "bewildering, confusing, perplexing," 1733, present-participle adjective from baffle (v.); also an 18c. sailor's adjective for winds that blow variously and make headway difficult.
- bag (n.)
- "small sack," c. 1200, bagge, probably from Old Norse baggi "pack, bundle," or a similar Scandinavian source. OED rejects connection to other Germanic words for "bellows, belly" as without evidence and finds a Celtic origin untenable.
As disparaging slang for "woman" it dates from 1924 in modern use (but various specialized senses of this are much older, and compare baggage). Meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is 1964, from African-American vernacular, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag. Meaning "fold of loose skin under the eye" is by 1867. Related: bags. To be left holding the bag (and presumably nothing else), "cheated, swindled" is attested by 1793. Many figurative senses, such as the verb meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818) are from the notion of the game bag (late 15c.) into which the product of the hunt was placed. This also probably explains modern slang in the bag "assured, certain" (1922, American English).
To let the cat out of the bag "reveal the secret" is from 1760. The source is probably the French expression Acheter chat en poche "buy a cat in a bag," which is attested in 18c. French and explained in Bailey's "Universal Etymological English Dictionary" (1736), under the entry for To buy a pig in a poke as "to buy a Thing without looking at it, or enquiring into the Value of it." (Similar expressions are found in Italian and German.) Thus to let the cat out of the bag would be to inadvertently reveal the hidden truth of a matter one is attempting to pass off as something better or different, which is in line with the earliest uses in English.
Sir Joseph letteth the cat out of the bag, and sheweth principles inimical to the cause of true philosophy, by wishing to make great men Fellows, instead of wise men ["Peter Pindar," "Peter's Prophecy," 1788]
- bag (v.)
- mid-15c., "to swell out like a bag;" also "to put (money, etc.) in a bag," from bag (n.). Earliest verbal sense was "to be pregnant" (c. 1400). Of clothes, "to hang loosely," 1824. Meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818) are from the notion of the game bag (late 15c.) into which the product of the hunt was placed. To bag school "play hookey" is by 1934. Related: Bagged; bagging.
- bag-end (n.)
- "bottom of a bag," c. 1400, from bag (n.) + end (n.).
- bagatelle (n.)
- 1630s, "a trifle, thing of no importance," from French bagatelle "knick-knack, bauble, trinket" (16c.), from Italian bagatella "a trifle," which is perhaps a diminutive of Latin baca "berry," or from one of the continental words (such as Old French bague "bundle") from the same source as English bag (n.). As "a piece of light music," it is attested from 1827.
- bagel (n.)
- "ring-shaped hard bread roll," 1919, from Yiddish beygl, from Middle High German boug- "ring, bracelet," from Old High German boug "a ring," related to Old English beag "ring" (in poetry, an Anglo-Saxon lord was beaggifa "ring-giver"), from Proto-Germanic *baugaz, from PIE root *bheug- (3) "to bend," with derivatives referring to bent, pliable, or curved objects (such as Old High German biogan "to bend;" see bow (v.)).
- bagful (n.)
- "as much as a bag will hold," c. 1300, bagge-ful, from bag (n.) + -ful.
- baggage (n.)
- mid-15c., "portable equipment of an army; plunder, loot," from Old French bagage "baggage, (military) equipment" (14c.), from bague "pack, bundle, sack," ultimately from the same Scandinavian source that yielded bag (n.). Later used of the bags, trunks, packages, etc., of a traveler (in this sense British English historically prefers luggage). Baggage-smasher (1851) was American English slang for "railway porter."
Used disparagingly, "worthless woman, strumpet" from 1590s; sometimes also playfully, "saucy or flirtatious woman" (1670s).
- bagger (n.)
- mid-15c., "retailer in grain" (as a surname from mid-13c., probably "maker of bags"), also, 1740, "miser;" agent noun from bag (v.). Of persons who bag various things for a living, from 19c.; meaning "machine that puts things in bags" is from 1896.
- baggy (adj.)
- "puffed out, hanging loosely" (like an empty bag), 1831, from bag (n.) + -y (2). Bagging in this sense is from 1590s. Baggie as a small protective plastic bag is from 1969. Baggies "baggy shorts" is from 1962, surfer slang. Related: Baggily; bagginess.
- a pre-Islamic name apparently of Indo-European origin and probably meaning "gift of god," with the first element related to Russian bog "god" and the second to English donor. Marco Polo (13c.) wrote it Baudac.
- bagpipes (n.)
- "musical wind instrument consisting of a leather bag and pipes," late 14c., from bag (n.) + pipe (n.1). Related: Bagpipe. Known to the ancients and originally a favorite instrument in England as well as the Celtic lands. By 1912 English army officers' slang for them was agony bags. Related: Bagpiper (early 14c.).
- baguette (n.)
- 1727, a type of architectural ornament, from French baguette "a wand, rod, stick" (16c.), from Italian bacchetta, literally "a small rod," diminutive of bacchio "rod," from Latin baculum "a stick" (see bacillus). Meaning "a diamond cut long" is from 1926; that of "a long, thin loaf of French bread" is from 1958.
- bah (interj.)
- exclamation of contempt, 1817, perhaps c. 1600, probably from French bah, Old French ba, expressing surprise, scorn, dismay. Perhaps simply a natural exclamation in such situations; compare Greek babai!, an exclamation of surprise.
- Baha'i (n.)
- 1889, Beha'i, mystical, tolerant Iranian religion founded by a Mirza Ali Mohammed ibn Radhik, Shiraz merchant executed for heresy in 1850, and named for his leading disciple, Baha Allah (Persian "splendor of God;" ultimately from Arabic). It also is sometimes called Babism, after the name taken by the founder, Bab-ed-Din, "gate of the faith."
- islands discovered by Columbus in 1492, settled by English in 1648, long after the native population had been wiped out by disease or carried off into slavery; the name is said to be from Spanish baja mar "low sea," in reference to the shallow water here, but more likely represents a local name, Guanahani, whose origin had been lost and whose meaning has been forgotten.