proverbial for "something extremely rare or non-existent" (late 14c.) is from Juvenal ["Sat." vi. 164], but the real thing turned up in Australia (Chenopsis atratus).
"Do you say no worthy wife is to be found among all these crowds?" Well, let her be handsome, charming, rich and fertile; let her have ancient ancestors ranged about her halls; let her be more chaste than all the dishevelled Sabine maidens who stopped the war—a prodigy as rare upon the earth as a black swan! yet who could endure a wife that possessed all perfections? I would rather have a Venusian wench for my wife than you, O Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, if, with all your virtues, you bring me a haughty brow, and reckon up Triumphs as part of your marriage portion. [Juvenal]
Blue dahlia also was used 19c. for "something rare and unheard of."
Old English swan "swan," from Proto-Germanic *swanaz "singer" (source also of Old Saxon swan, Old Norse svanr, Danish svane, Swedish svan, Middle Dutch swane, Dutch zwaan, Old High German swan, German Schwan), probably literally "the singing bird" (from PIE root *swen- "to make sound"). If so, it is related to Old English geswin "melody, song" and swinsian "to make melody."
In classical mythology, sacred to Apollo and to Venus. The singing of swans before death was alluded to by Chaucer (late 14c.), but swan-song (1831) is a translation of German Schwanengesang. The ancient Indo-European mythical swan-maiden so called by mythographers from 1829. Swan dive is recorded from 1898.
Old English blæc "absolutely dark, absorbing all light, the color of soot or coal," from Proto-Germanic *blakaz "burned" (source also of Old Norse blakkr "dark," Old High German blah "black," Swedish bläck "ink," Dutch blaken "to burn"), from PIE *bhleg- "to burn, gleam, shine, flash" (source also of Greek phlegein "to burn, scorch," Latin flagrare "to blaze, glow, burn"), from root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn."
The same root produced Old English blac "bright, shining, glittering, pale;" the connecting notions being, perhaps, "fire" (bright) and "burned" (dark), or perhaps "absence of color." "There is nothing more variable than the signification of words designating colour" [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859].
The usual Old English word for "black" was sweart (see swart). According to OED: "In ME. it is often doubtful whether blac, blak, blake, means 'black, dark,' or 'pale, colourless, wan, livid.' " Used of dark-skinned people in Old English.
Of coffee with nothing added, attested by 1796. Black drop (1823) was a liquid preparation of opium, used medicinally. Black-fly (c. 1600) was used of various insects, especially an annoying pest of the northern American woods. Black Prince as a nickname of the eldest son of Edward III is attested by 1560s; the exact signification is uncertain.
Meaning "fierce, terrible, wicked" is from late 14c. Figurative senses often come from the notion of "without light," moral or spiritual. Latin niger had many of the same figurative senses ("gloomy; unlucky; bad, wicked, malicious"). The metaphoric use of the Greek word, melas, however, tended to reflect the notion of "shrouded in darkness, overcast." In English it has been the color of sin and sorrow at least since c. 1300; the sense of "with dark purposes, malignant" emerged 1580s (in black art "necromancy;" it is also the sense in black magic). Black flag, flown (especially by pirates) as a signal of "no mercy," is from 1590s. Black dog "melancholy" attested from 1826.
Black belt is from 1870 in reference to district extending across the U.S. South with heaviest African population (also sometimes in reference to the fertility of the soil); it is attested from 1913 in the judo sense, worn by one who has attained a certain high degree of proficiency. Black power is from 1966, associated with Stokely Carmichael. Black English "English as spoken by African-Americans," is by 1969. The Black Panther (1965) movement was an outgrowth of Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee. Black studies is attested from 1968.
Old English blæc "the color black," also "ink," from noun use of black (adj.). From late 14c. as "dark spot in the pupil of the eye." The meaning "dark-skinned person, African" is from 1620s (perhaps late 13c., and blackamoor is from 1540s). Meaning "black clothing" (especially when worn in mourning) is from c. 1400.
To be in black-and-white, meaning in writing or in print, is from 1650s (white-and-black is from 1590s); the notion is of black characters on white paper. In the visual arts, "with no colors but black and white," it is by 1870 of sketches, 1883 of photographs. To be in the black (1922) is from the accounting practice of recording credits and balances in black ink.
For years it has been a common practice to use red ink instead of black in showing a loss or deficit on corporate books, but not until the heavy losses of 1921 did the contrast in colors come to have a widely understood meaning. [Saturday Evening Post, July 22, 1922]
In reference to dark eyes, often as a mark of beauty, from 1660s. Black-eyed is from 1590s of women, of peas from 1728. The black-eyed Susan as a flower (various species) so called from 1881, for its appearance. It also was the title of a poem by John Gay (1685-1732), which led to a popular mid-19c. British stage play of the same name.
All in the Downs the fleet was moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard,
"Oh! where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William sails among the crew?"
1961, "comedy that deals in themes and subjects usually regarded as serious or taboo," from black (adj.), in a figurative sense of "morbid," + comedy. Compare French pièce noire, also comédie noire "macabre or farcical rendering of a violent or tragic theme" (1958, perhaps the inspiration for the English term) and 19th-century gallows-humor. In a racial sense, from 1921.