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).
sometimes beni-, word-forming element meaning "well," from Latin bene (adv.) "well, in the right way, honorably, properly," from PIE *dwenelo-, suffixed (adverbial) form of root *deu- (2) "to do, perform; show favor, revere." Opposed to mal-. From the same source come Latin bonus "good," bellus "handsome, fine, pretty," and possibly beatus "blessed," beare "to make blessed."
word-forming element meaning "two, having two, twice, double, doubly, twofold, once every two," etc., from Latin bi- "twice, double," from Old Latin dvi- (cognate with Sanskrit dvi-, Greek di-, dis-, Old English twi-, German zwei- "twice, double"), from PIE root *dwo- "two."
Nativized from 16c. Occasionally bin- before vowels; this form originated in French, not Latin, and might be partly based on or influenced by Latin bini "twofold" (see binary). In chemical terms, it denotes two parts or equivalents of the substance referred to. Cognate with twi- and di- (1).
word-forming element meaning "book" or sometimes "Bible," from Greek biblion "paper, scroll," also the ordinary word for "a book as a division of a larger work;" originally a diminutive of byblos "Egyptian papyrus." This is perhaps from Byblos, the Phoenician port from which Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece (modern Jebeil, in Lebanon; for sense evolution compare parchment). Or the place name might be from the Greek word, which then would be probably of Egyptian origin. Compare Bible. Latin liber (see library) and English book also are ultimately from plant-words.
word-forming element, especially in scientific compounds, meaning "life, life and," or "biology, biology and," or "biological, of or pertaining to living organisms or their constituents," from Greek bios "one's life, course or way of living, lifetime" (as opposed to zoe "animal life, organic life"), from PIE root *gwei- "to live."
The correct usage is that in biography, but since c. 1800 in modern science it has been extended to mean "organic life," as zoo-, the better choice, is restricted in modern use to animal, as opposed to plant, life. Both are from the same PIE root. Compare biology.
before vowels botry-, word-forming element meaning "cluster, cluster-like," from Greek botrys "cluster of grapes," which is of unknown origin.
before a vowel, brachi-, word-forming element meaning "arm, of the upper arm, pertaining to the upper arm and," from Latinized form of Greek brakhion "arm," perhaps originally "upper arm," literally "shorter," from brakhys "short" (from PIE root *mregh-u- "short"), in contrast to the longer forearm.