"large bundle or package of merchandise prepared for transportation," early 14c., from Old French bale "rolled-up bundle" (13c., Modern French balle), from Frankish or some other Germanic source (such as Old High German balla "ball"), from Proto-Germanic *ball- (from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell"). The English word perhaps is via Flemish or Dutch, which got it from French.
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to blow, swell," "with derivatives referring to various round objects and to the notion of tumescent masculinity" [Watkins].
It forms all or part of: bale (n.) "large bundle or package of merchandise prepared for transportation;" baleen; ball (n.1) "round object, compact spherical body;" balloon; ballot; bawd; bold; bole; boll; bollocks; bollix; boulder; boulevard; bowl (n.) "round pot or cup;" bulk; bull (n.1) "bovine male animal;" bullock; bulwark; follicle; folly; fool; foosball; full (v.) "to tread or beat cloth to cleanse or thicken it;" ithyphallic; pall-mall; phallus.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Greek phyllon "leaf," phallos "swollen penis;" Latin flos "flower," florere "to blossom, flourish," folium "leaf;" Old Prussian balsinis "cushion;" Old Norse belgr "bag, bellows;" Old English bolla "pot, cup, bowl;" Old Irish bolgaim "I swell," blath "blossom, flower," bolach "pimple," bolg "bag;" Breton bolc'h "flax pod;" Serbian buljiti "to stare, be bug-eyed;" Serbo-Croatian blazina "pillow."
An extended form of the root, *bhleu- "to swell, well up, overflow," forms all or part of: affluent; bloat; confluence; effluent; effluvium; efflux; fluctuate; fluent; fluid; flume; fluor; fluorescence; fluoride; fluoro-; flush (v.1) "spurt, rush out suddenly, flow with force;" fluvial; flux; influence; influenza; influx; mellifluous; phloem; reflux; superfluous.
late 14c., "small portable vessel (originally made of horn) for holding ink," from ink (n.) + horn (n.). Used attributively from 1540s ("Soche are your Ynkehorne termes," John Bale) as an adjective for things (especially vocabulary) supposed to be beloved by scribblers, pedants, and bookworms. An Old English word for the thing was blæchorn.
also door-nail, "large-headed nail used for studding batten doors for strength or ornament," late 14c.; see door (n.) + nail (n.). The figurative expression dead as a doornail is attested as early as the word itself.
But ich haue bote of mi bale bi a schort time, I am ded as dore-nail. ("William of Palerne," c. 1375).
Compare key-cold "lifeless, inanimate, devoid of heat, cold as a metal key" (1510s). Also in Middle English as a symbol of muteness (domb as a dor nail, c. 1400).
Old English bealufull "dire, wicked, cruel," with -ful + bealu "harm, injury, ruin, evil, mischief, wickedness, a noxious thing," from Proto-Germanic *balu- (source also of Old Saxon balu, Old Frisian balu "evil," Old High German balo "destruction," Old Norse bol, Gothic balwjan "to torment"), a word of uncertain etymology.
During Anglo-Saxon times, the noun was in poetic use only (in compounds such as bealubenn "mortal wound," bealuðonc "evil thought"). The equivalent noun is missing in modern German, Danish, and Swedish, and in English bale long has been archaic or poetic only (OED says "Marked obsolete in dictionaries soon after 1600"), while baleful in modern English long has been poetic or literary only. Related: Balefully.
c. 1300, ballede, "wanting hair in some part where it naturally grows," of uncertain origin. Perhaps with Middle English -ede adjectival suffix, from Celtic bal "white patch, blaze" especially on the head of a horse or other animal (from PIE root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, gleam").
Compare, from the same root, Sanskrit bhalam "brightness, forehead," Greek phalos "white," Latin fulcia "coot" (so called for the white patch on its head), Albanian bale "forehead." But connection with ball (n.1), on notion of "smooth, round" also has been suggested, and if not formed from it it was early associated with it. Middle English Compendium says it probably was formed on the root of ball, and compares Old Danish bældet.
Sometimes figurative: "meager" (14c.), "without ornament" (16c.), "open, undisguised" (19c.). Of automobile tires with worn treads, by 1930. Bald eagle is attested by 1680s; so called for its white head.