1530s, "scullion, kitchen knave," of uncertain origin. Perhaps in reference to military units or attendants so called for the color of their dress or their character; more likely originally a mock-military reference to scullions and kitchen-knaves of noble households, of black-liveried personal guards, and of shoeblacks. See black (adj.) + guard (n.). By 1736, sense had emerged of "one of the idle criminal class; man of coarse and offensive manners." Hence the adjectival use (1784), "of low or worthless character."
also black-list, "list of persons who have incurred suspicion, earned punishment, or are for any reason deemed objectionable by the makers and users of the list," 1610s, from black (adj.), here indicative of disgrace, censure, punishment (a sense attested from 1590s, in black book) + list (n.1). Specifically of employers' list of workers considered troublesome (usually for union activity) by 1884. As a verb, from 1718. Related: Blacklisted; blacklisting.
The term implies the habitual frequenting of places where wagers are made and games of chance are played, and the seeking of subsistence by dishonorable betting, but does not always imply direct cheating. Sometimes contracted to leg. [Century Dictionary]
Used from 1865 of strike-breakers and workmen who refused to join trade unions.
Old English sweart "black, dark," of night, clouds, also figurative, "wicked, infamous," from Proto-Germanic *swarta- (source also of Old Frisian, Old Saxon, and Middle Dutch swart, Dutch zwart, Old Norse svartr, German schwarz, Gothic swarts "dark-colored, black"), from PIE root *swordo- "dirty, dark, black" (source of sordid). The true Germanic word, surviving in the Continental languages but displaced in English by black. Of skin color of persons from late 14c. Related: Swartest.
also black-face, 1868 (the phrase itself seems not to have been common in print before 1880s) in reference to a performance style, originated in U.S., where (typically) non-black performers used burnt cork or other theatrical make-up to blacken their faces, from black (adj.) + face (n.). The thing itself is older, from the 1830s.
The old-time black face song-and-dance man has disappeared from the stage. At one time no minstrel or variety company was complete without a team of these stage favorites; and who can ever forget their reception at every performance? It made no difference whether they represented the genteel or the plantation negro, they were always welcome, and as a rule were the big feature of the bill. [William E. "Judge" Horton, "About Stage Folks," 1902]
The word comes from the freebooting clan chieftains who ran protection rackets against farmers in Scotland and northern England. The custom persisted until mid-18c. Black from the evil of the practice. The sense expanded by 1826 to mean any extortion by means of intimidation, especially by threat of exposure or scandal. Compare silver mail "rent paid in money" (1590s); buttock-mail (Scottish, 1530s) "fine imposed for fornication."
Old English blæcan, of cloth or fabric, "to make white by removing color, whiten" (by exposure to chemical agents or the sun), from Proto-Germanic *blaikjan "to make white" (source also of Old Saxon blek, Old Norse bleikr, Dutch bleek, Old High German bleih, German bleich "pale;" Old Norse bleikja, Dutch bleken, German bleichen "to make white, cause to fade"), from PIE root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn," also "shining white."
The same root probably produced black, perhaps because both black and white are colorless, or because both are associated in different ways with burning. Compare Old English scimian meaning both "to shine" and "to dim, grow dusky, grow dark," which is related to the source of shine. Intransitive sense "become white" is from 1610s. Related: Bleached; bleaching. The past participle in Middle English was sometimes blaught.
1550s, "member of a black-skinned race of Africa," from Spanish or Portuguese negro "black," from Latin nigrum (nominative niger) "black, dark, sable, dusky" (applied to the night sky, a storm, the complexion), figuratively "gloomy, unlucky, bad, wicked," according to de Vaan a word of unknown etymology; according to Watkins, perhaps from PIE *nekw-t- "night." The Latin word also was applied to the black peoples of Africa, but the usual terms were Aethiops and Afer.
As an adjective from 1590s. Use with a capital N- became general early 20c. (e.g. 1930 in "New York Times" stylebook) in reference to U.S. citizens of African descent, but because of its perceived association with white-imposed attitudes and roles the word was ousted late 1960s in this sense by Black (q.v.).
Professor Booker T. Washington, being politely interrogated ... as to whether negroes ought to be called 'negroes' or 'members of the colored race' has replied that it has long been his own practice to write and speak of members of his race as negroes, and when using the term 'negro' as a race designation to employ the capital 'N' [Harper's Weekly, June 2, 1906]
Meaning "African-American vernacular, the English language as spoken by U.S. blacks" is from 1704. French nègre is a 16c. borrowing from Spanish negro. Older English words were Moor and blackamoor. A Middle English word for "Ethiopian" (perhaps also "a negro" generally) was blewman "blue man."
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to shine, flash, burn," also "shining white" and forming words for bright colors.
It forms all or part of: beluga; Beltane; black; blancmange; blanch; blank; blanket; blaze (n.1) "bright flame, fire;" bleach; bleak; blemish; blench; blende; blend; blind; blindfold; blitzkrieg; blond; blue (adj.1); blush; conflagration; deflagration; effulgence; effulgent; flagrant; flambe; flambeau; flamboyant; flame; flamingo; flammable; Flavian; Flavius; fulgent; fulminate; inflame; inflammable; phlegm; phlegmatic; phlogiston; phlox; purblind; refulgent; riboflavin.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit bhrajate "shines;" Greek phlegein "to burn;" Latin flamma "flame," fulmen "lightning," fulgere "to shine, flash," flagrare "to burn, blaze, glow;" Old Church Slavonic belu "white;" Lithuanian balnas "pale."