bird-dog (n.) Look up bird-dog at
"dog used in hunting game birds," 1832, from bird (n.1) + dog (n.). Hence the verb (1941) meaning "to follow closely."
bird-lime (n.) Look up bird-lime at
viscous sticky stuff prepared from holly bark and used to catch small birds, mid-15c., from bird (n.1) + lime (n.1). Used as rhyming slang for time (especially time in prison) by 1857; hence bird (n.) "jail" (by 1924).
bird-seed (n.) Look up bird-seed at
also birdseed, "small seed used for feeding birds," 1736, from bird (n.1) + seed (n.).
birder (n.) Look up birder at
"bird-watcher," 1945, from bird (n.1) + -er (1). Earlier it meant "bird-catcher" (late 15c.).
birdie (n.) Look up birdie at
"little bird," 1792, from bird (n.1) + -ie. As golf slang for "a hole played one under par," by 1908, perhaps from bird (n.) in American English slang sense of "exceptionally clever or accomplished person or thing" (1839).
birdman (n.) Look up birdman at
slang for "aviator," 1909, from bird (n.1) + man (n.).
biretta (n.) Look up biretta at
square cap worn by Catholic clergy, 1590s, from Italian beretta, from Late Latin birrus, birrum "large cloak with hood;" which is perhaps of Gaulish origin, or from Greek pyrros "flame-colored, yellow."
Birmingham Look up Birmingham at
industrial city in central England, 1086, Bermingehame, literally "homestead of the place (or people) named for Beorma, some forgotten Anglo-Saxon person, whose name probably is a shortening of Beornmund. The Birmingham in Alabama, U.S., was founded 1871 as an industrial center and named for the English city.
Biro (n.) Look up Biro at
proprietary name of a type of ball-point pen, 1947, from László Bíró, the Hungarian inventor. The surname means "judge."
birth (n.) Look up birth at
c. 1200, "fact of being born;" mid-13c., "act of giving birth, a bringing forth by the mother, childbirth," sometimes in Middle English also "conception;" also "that which is born, offspring, child;" from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse *byrðr (replacing cognate Old English gebyrd "birth, descent, race; offspring; nature; fate"), from Proto-Germanic *gaburthis (source also of Old Frisian berd, Old Saxon giburd, Dutch geboorte, Old High German giburt, German geburt, Gothic gabaurþs), from PIE *bhrto past participle of root *bher- (1) "to carry; to bear children" (compare bear (v.)).

Suffix -th is for "process" (as in bath, death). Meaning "condition into which a person is born, lineage, descent" is from c. 1200 (also in the Old English word). In reference to non-living things, "any coming into existence" is from 1610s. Birth control is from 1914; birth certificate is from 1842.
birth (v.) Look up birth at
mid-13c., "be born," from birth (n.). Meaning "give birth to, give rise to" is from 1906. Related: Birthed; birthing.
birth-mark (n.) Look up birth-mark at
also birthmark, "congenital mark or blemish," by 1805, from birth (n.) + mark (n.1). Birth marks in 17c. could be longing marks; supposedly they showed the image of something longed for by the mother while expecting. Related: Birthmarked.
birth-rate (n.) Look up birth-rate at
1859, from birth (n.) + rate (n.).
birthday (n.) Look up birthday at
late 14c., from Old English byrddæg, "anniversary or celebration of one's birth" (at first usually a king or saint); see birth (n.) + day. Meaning "day on which one is born" is from 1570s. Birthnight is attested from 1620s.
birthday suit (n.) Look up birthday suit at
first attested 1730s, but probably much older. The notion is the suit of clothes one was born in, i.e., no clothes at all. Compare Middle English mother naked "naked as the day one was born;" Middle Dutch moeder naect, German mutternackt.
birthing (n.) Look up birthing at
"action or process of giving birth," 1901, verbal noun from birth (v.).
birthplace (n.) Look up birthplace at
also birth-place, "town, country, etc.,e where one was born," c. 1600, from birth (n.) + place (n.). Middle English had birthstede (c. 1400).
birthright (n.) Look up birthright at
also birth-right, 1530s, from birth (n.) + right (n.). Used as an adjective from 1650s, especially by Quakers.
birthstone (n.) Look up birthstone at
1874, from birth (n.) + stone (n.).
bis- Look up bis- at
word-forming element meaning "twice," from Latin bis "twice, in two ways, doubly," from Old Latin dvis, cognate with Sanskrit dvih, Avestan bish, Greek dis, Middle High German zwis "twice," from PIE root *dwo- "two." Also the form of bi- used before -s-, -c-, or a vowel.
Biscay Look up Biscay at
historically Basque region of northern Spain (Spanish Vizcaya), along the bay named for it between Spain and France, said to be from Basque biskar "mountain country." Related: Biscayan.
biscotti (n.) Look up biscotti at
1990s, from Italian biscotti, plural of biscotto, from Medieval Latin biscoctum, literally "twice-baked," from Latin (panis) bis coctus "(bread) twice-baked;" see bis- + cook (v.). Compare biscuit.
biscuit (n.) Look up biscuit at
respelled early 19c. from bisket (16c.), ultimately (besquite, early 14c.) from Old French bescuit "biscuit" (12c.), altered under influence of cognate Old Italian biscotto, both from Medieval Latin biscoctum, literally "twice-baked," from Latin (panis) bis coctus "(bread) twice-baked;" see bis- + cook (v.). Originally a kind of hard, dry bread baked in thin cakes; U.S. sense of "small, round soft bun" is recorded from 1818.
bisect (v.) Look up bisect at
"to cut in two," 1640s, from Modern Latin bisectus, from Latin bi- "two" (see bi-) + secare "to cut" (from PIE root *sek- "to cut"). Related: Bisected; bisecting.
bisection (n.) Look up bisection at
"division in two," 1650s, noun of state from bisect. Related: Bisectional.
bisector (n.) Look up bisector at
1821; agent noun from bisect.
bisexual (adj.) Look up bisexual at
1824, "having the organs of both sexes in one being, hermaphroditic;" see bi- "two" + sexual. Meaning "attracted to both sexes" is from 1914; the noun in this sense is attested from 1922, and compare bisexuality. Not in general use until 1950s. Ambisexual was proposed in this sense early 20c.
I suggest that the term ambisexuality be used in psychology instead of the expression "bisexual predisposition." This would connote that we understand by this predisposition, not the presence of male and female material in the organism (Fliess), nor of male and female sex hunger in the mind, but the child's psychical capacity for bestowing his erotism, originally objectless, on either the male or the female sex, or on both. [S. Ferenczi, "Sex in Psycho-Analysis," transl. Ernest Jones, Boston, 1916]
Bisexous (1838) and bisexuous (1856) were used in the sense of "hermaphrodite."
bisexuality (n.) Look up bisexuality at
"attraction to both sexes" 1892, in translation of Krafft-Ebing; see bisexual + -ity. Earlier "quality of having the organs of both sexes" (1850).
bishop (n.) Look up bishop at
Old English bisceop "bishop, high priest (Jewish or pagan)," from Late Latin episcopus, from Greek episkopos "watcher, (spiritual) overseer," a title for various government officials, later taken over in a Church sense, from epi- "over" (see epi-) + skopos "one that watches, one that looks after; a guardian, protector" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe"). Given a specific sense in the Church, but the word also was used in the New Testament as a descriptive title for elders, and continues as such in some non-hierarchical Christian sects.
A curious example of word-change, as effected by the genius of different tongues, is furnished by the English bishop and the French évêque. Both are from the same root, furnishing, perhaps the only example of two words from a common stem so modifying themselves in historical times as not to have a letter in common. (Of course many words from a far off Aryan stem are in the same condition.) The English strikes off the initial and terminal syllables, leaving only piscop, which the Saxon preference for the softer labial and hissing sounds modified into bishop. Évêque (formerly evesque) merely softens the p into v and drops the last syllable. [William S. Walsh, "Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities," Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1892]
Late Latin episcopus in Spanish became obispo, in Italian vescovo, in Welsh esgob. The Germanic forms include Old Saxon biscop, Old High German biscof. Further afield it became Lithuanian viskupas, Albanian upeshk, Finnish piispa. A once-popular pun on it was bite-sheep (1550s, also in German, biss-schaf). The chess piece (formerly archer, before that alfin) was so called from 1560s.
bishopric (n.) Look up bishopric at
Old English bisceoprice "diocese, province of a bishop," from bishop + rice "realm, dominion, province," from Proto-Germanic *rikja "rule," from PIE root *reg- "move in a straight line," with derivatives meaning "to direct in a straight line," thus "to lead, rule."
Bismarck Look up Bismarck at
"drink of champagne and stout" (also called a black velvet), 1910, named for the German chancellor (1815-1898), who was said to have been fond of it. The surname is said to be short for Biscofsmark "bishop's boundary." The capital city of North Dakota was named 1873 in honor of the chancellor in recognition of the investment of German bondholders in the railroad through there.
bismillah (interj.) Look up bismillah at
first attested in English in Byron, from Arabic bi'smillah(i) "in the name of God" (Allah).
bismuth (n.) Look up bismuth at
brittle crystalline metal, 1660s, from obsolete German Bismuth, also Wismut, Wissmuth (early 17c.), which is of unknown origin; perhaps a miner's contraction of wis mat "white mass," from Old High German hwiz "white." Latinized 1530 by Georgius Agricola (who may have been the first to recognize it as an element) as bisemutum. According to Klein, not from Arabic. Related: Bismuthal; bismuthic.
bison (n.) Look up bison at
c. 1600, "European wild ov," from French bison (15c.), from Latin bison "wild ox," borrowed from Proto-Germanic *wisand- "aurochs" (source also of Old Norse visundr, Old High German wisunt "bison," Old English/Middle English wesend, which is not attested after c. 1400). Possibly ultimately of Baltic or Slavic origin, and meaning "the stinking animal," in reference to its scent while rutting (see weasel).

The animal formerly was widespread on the continent, including the British Isles, but in 20c. survived in the wild only on a forest reserve in Poland. Not to be confused with the aurochs. The name was applied 1690s to the North American species commonly mis-called a buffalo, which formerly ranged as far as Virginia and Georgia but by 1902 was deemed by Century Dictionary "apparently soon to become extinct as a wild animal." It has since recovered numbers on federal land. Related: Bisontine
bisque (n.1) Look up bisque at
"stewed, thickened soup," 1640s, bisk, from French bisque "crayfish soup" (17c.), said to be an altered form of Biscaye "Biscay" (see Biscay). Gamillscheg says: "Volkstümliche Entlehnung aus norm. bisque 'schlechtes Getränk.'" Modern form in English from 1731.
bisque (n.2) Look up bisque at
"unglazed white porcelain used for statuettes, figurines, etc.," 1660s, alteration of biscuit, literally "twice-baked."
bissextile Look up bissextile at
1580s (n.); 1590s (adj.), in reference to Roman leap year, from Late Latin (annus) bisextilis "leap year," more literally "the twice sixth-day, (a year) containing a second sixth (day)." To keep the Julian calendar consistent with the sun, the sixth day (by inclusive reckoning) before the Calends of March was doubled every four years. It corresponds to our February 24th. From Latin bissextus/bisextis (dies), from bis "twice" (see bis-) + sextus "sixth (day before the First of March)," from sex "six" (see six).
bistro (n.) Look up bistro at
1906, from French bistro (1884), originally Parisian slang for "little wineshop or restaurant," which is of unknown origin. Commonly said to be from Russian bee-stra "quickly," picked up during the Allied occupation of Paris in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon; but this, however quaint, is unlikely. Another guess is that it is from bistraud "a little shepherd," a word of the Poitou dialect, from biste "goat."
bit (n.2) Look up bit at
computerese word, 1948 abbreviation coined by U.S. computer pioneer John W. Tukey (1915-2000) of binary digit, probably chosen for its identity with bit (n.1).
bit (v.) Look up bit at
past tense of bite.
bit (n.1) Look up bit at
"small piece," c. 1200; related Old English bite "act of biting," and bita "piece bitten off," which probably are the source of the modern words meaning "boring-piece of a drill" (the "biting" part, 1590s), "mouthpiece of a horse's bridle" (mid-14c.), and "a piece (of food) bitten off, morsel" (c. 1000). All from Proto-Germanic *biton (source also of Old Saxon biti, Old Norse bit, Old Frisian bite, Middle Dutch bete, Old High German bizzo "biting," German Bissen "a bite, morsel"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split."

Meaning "small piece, fragment" of anything is from c. 1600. Sense of "short space of time" is 1650s. Theatrical bit part is from 1909. Money sense "small coin" in two bits, etc. is originally from the U.S. South and the West Indies, in reference to silver wedges cut or stamped from Spanish dollars (later Mexican reals); transferred to "eighth of a dollar."
bitch (v.) Look up bitch at
"to complain," attested at least from 1930, perhaps from the sense in bitchy, perhaps influenced by the verb meaning "to bungle, spoil," which is recorded from 1823. But bitched in this sense seems to echo Middle English bicched "cursed, bad," a general term of opprobrium (as in Chaucer's bicched bones "unlucky dice"), which despite the hesitation of OED, seems to be a derivative of bitch (n.).
bitch (n.) Look up bitch at
Old English bicce "female dog," probably from Old Norse bikkjuna "female of the dog" (also of the fox, wolf, and occasionally other beasts), which is of unknown origin. Grimm derives the Old Norse word from Lapp pittja, but OED notes that "the converse is equally possible." As a term of contempt applied to women, it dates from c. 1400; of a man, c. 1500, playfully, in the sense of "dog." Used among male homosexuals from 1930s. In modern (1990s, originally African-American vernacular) slang, its use with reference to a man is sexually contemptuous, from the "woman" insult.
BITCH. A she dog, or doggess; the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore. ["Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1811]
Bitch goddess coined 1906 by William James; the original one was success.
bitchery (n.) Look up bitchery at
"vileness or coarseness in a woman" [Century Dictionary, 1889], 1530s; see bitch (n.) + -ery.
bitching (adj.) Look up bitching at
also bitchen, "good," teen/surfer slang attested from 1950s, apparently from bitch (v.) in some inverted sense. Meaning "complaining" is by 1945, U.S. armed services.
bitchy (adj.) Look up bitchy at
1925, U.S. slang, "sexually provocative;" later (1930s) "spiteful, catty, bad-tempered" (usually of females); from bitch + -y (2). Earlier in reference to male dogs thought to look less rough or coarse than usual.
Mr. Ramsay says we would now call the old dogs "bitchy" in face. That is because the Englishmen have gone in for the wrong sort of forefaces in their dogs, beginning with the days when Meersbrook Bristles and his type swept the judges off their feet and whiskers and an exaggerated face were called for in other varieties of terriers besides the wire haired fox. [James Watson, "The Dog Book," New York, 1906]
Related: Bitchily; bitchiness.
bite (v.) Look up bite at
Old English bitan "to pierce or cut with the teeth" (class I strong verb; past tense bat, past participle biten), from Proto-Germanic *bitan (source also of Old Saxon bitan, Old Norse and Old Frisian bita, Middle Dutch biten, Dutch bijten, German beissen, Gothic beitan "to bite"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split," with derivatives in Germanic referring to biting.

To bite the bullet is said to be 1700s military slang, from old medical custom of having the patient bite a lead bullet during an operation to divert attention from pain and reduce screaming. Figurative use from 1891; the custom itself attested from 1840s. To bite (one's) tongue "refrain from speaking" is 1590s; to bite (one's) lip to repress signs of some emotion or reaction is from early 14c. To bite off more than one can chew (c. 1880) is U.S. slang, from plug tobacco.

To bite the dust "be thrown or struck down," hence "be vanquished, die, be slain, perish in battle" is from 1750, earlier bite the ground (1670s), lick the dust (late 14c.), which OED identifies as "a Hebraism," but Latin had the same image; compare Virgil's procubuit moriens et humum semel ore momordit.
bite (n.) Look up bite at
late Old English, "a biting, an act of piercing with the teeth;" c. 1200, "a mouthful, a morsel of food," from bite (v.). From early 15c. as "a mark left by biting." From 1865 as "the catch or hold of one mechanical part on another."
biter (n.) Look up biter at
c. 1300, agent noun from bite (v.). Also in Middle English "a slanderer" (early 15c.).
bitheism (n.) Look up bitheism at
"belief in two gods" (typically a good and an evil one), 1857, from bi- "two" + -theism.