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.
1707 as a direct phrase, but implied much earlier, and Old Norse had bikkju-sonr. Abbreviated form SOB from 1918; form sumbitch attested in writing by 1969.
Abide þou þef malicious!
Biche-sone þou drawest amis
þou schalt abigge it ywis!
["Of Arthour & of Merlin," c. 1330]
"Probably the most common American vulgarity from about the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the twentieth" [Rawson].
Our maid-of-all-work in that department [indecency] is son-of-a-bitch, which seems as pale and ineffectual to a Slav or a Latin as fudge does to us. There is simply no lift in it, no shock, no sis-boom-ah. The dumbest policeman in Palermo thinks of a dozen better ones between breakfast and the noon whistle. [H.L. Mencken, "The American Language," 4th ed., 1936, p.317-8]
Elsewhere, complaining of the tepidity of the American vocabulary of profanity, Mencken writes that the toned-down form son-of-a-gun "is so lacking in punch that the Italians among us have borrowed it as a satirical name for an American: la sanemagogna is what they call him, and by it they indicate their contempt for his backwardness in the art that is one of their great glories."
It was in 1934 also that the New York Daily News, with commendable frankness, in reporting a hearing in Washington at which Senator Huey P. Long featured, forsook the old-time dashes and abbreviations and printed the complete epithet "son of a bitch." [Stanley Walker, "City Editor," 1934]
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.
abbreviation of son of a bitch (q.v.). The existence of sob (n.) probably prevented it becoming a full acronym.
"migrant agricultural worker," especially (but not exclusively) one driven from farms in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, 1938, short for U.S. state of Oklahoma.
"Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch." [John Steinbeck, "The Grapes of Wrath," 1939]
Old English grighund (West Saxon), greghund (Anglian) "greyhound," probably from grig- "bitch," a word of unknown etymology, + hund "dog" (see hound (n.)).
The first element in the name apparently has nothing to do with color, as most of the hounds are not gray, but the exact sense of it must have been early forgotten, as it has been long associated with the color in popular imagination. In some Middle English forms it appears to be conformed to Grew, an old word for "Greek" (from Old French Griu). The Old Norse form of the word is preserved in Hjalti's couplet that almost sparked war between pagans and Christians in early Iceland:
Vilkat goð geyja
grey þykkjumk Freyja
[translation "I will not blaspheme the gods,
but I think Freyja is a bitch"]