word-forming element in words of Greek origin or formation meaning "around, about, enclosing," from Greek peri (prep.) "around, about, beyond," cognate with Sanskrit pari "around, about, through," Latin per, from PIE root *per- (1) "forward," hence "in front of, before, first, chief, toward, near, around, against." Equivalent in sense to Latin circum-.
before a vowel amph-, word-forming element meaning "on both sides, of both kinds; on all sides, all around," from Greek amphi (prep., adv.) "round about, on both sides of, all around; about, regarding," which is cognate with Latin ambi-, both from PIE root *ambhi- "around."
word-forming element of verbs and nouns from verbs, with a wide range of meaning: "about, around; thoroughly, completely; to make, cause, seem; to provide with; at, on, to, for;" from Old English be- "about, around, on all sides" (the unstressed form of bi "by;" see by (prep.)). The form has remained by- in stressed positions and in some more modern formations (bylaw, bygones, bystander).
The Old English prefix also was used to make transitive verbs and as a privative prefix (as in behead). The sense "on all sides, all about" naturally grew to include intensive uses (as in bespatter "spatter about," therefore "spatter very much," besprinkle, etc.). Be- also can be causative, or have just about any sense required. The prefix was productive 16c.-17c. in forming useful words, many of which have not survived, such as bethwack "to thrash soundly" (1550s) and betongue "to assail in speech, to scold" (1630s).
word-forming element meaning "around, round about, all around, on all sides," from Latin adverb and preposition circum "around, round about," literally "in a circle," probably accusative form of circus "ring" (see circus). The Latin word was commonly used in word-formation. In French, the element became circon-; Kitchin points out that con for cum is common even in classical Latin. For sense development, compare German rings "around."
substituted for the initial sound of a word and reduplicated with it to convey derision (as in "Oedipus schmoedipus" in the punchline of the old joke about the Jewish mother and the psychiatrist), 1929, from the numerous Yiddish words that begin with this sound.
word-forming element meaning "toward; against; before; near; across; down," also used as an intensive, from Latin ob (prep.) "in the direction of, in front of, before; toward, to, at, upon, about; in the way of; with regard to, because of," from PIE root *epi, also *opi "near, against" (see epi-).
Middle English spelling of a common Germanic consonant-cluster (in Old English it was graphed as cn-; see K). The sound it represented persists in most of the sister languages, but in English it was reduced to "n-" in standard pronunciation by 1750, after about a century of weakening and fading. It was fully voiced in Old and Middle English.
patronymic element in Welsh pedigrees and names, earlier map "son," cognate with Gaelic mac. Since 17c. merged into surnames and reduced to P- or B- (Ap Rhys = Price, Ap Evan = Bevan, Bowen = Ap Owen, etc.).
It is said that a Welshman who evidently was not willing to be surpassed in length of pedigree, when making out his genealogical tree, wrote near the middle of his long array of 'aps' — "about this time Adam was born." ["Origin and Significance of our Names," The Chautauquan, Oct. 1887-July 1888]