mid-14c., representing the Greek rendition of Akkadian Bab-ilani "the gate of the gods," from bab "gate" + ilani, plural of ilu "god" (compare Babel). The Old Persian form, Babiru-, shows characteristic transformation of -l- to -r- in words assimilated from Semitic. Formerly also applied by Protestants to the Church in Rome, from the woman "arrayed in purple and scarlet" in Revelation xvii.5 ("And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth").
"great hunter," 1712, a reference to the biblical son of Cush, referred to (Genesis x.8-9) as "a mighty hunter before the Lord." In Middle English he was Nembrot (mid-13c.), founder of cities and builder of the tower of Babel (though Genesis does not name him as such). In 16c.-17c. his name was synonymous with "a tyrant." The word came to mean "geek, klutz" by 1983 in teenager slang, for unknown reasons. (Amateur theories include its occasional use in "Bugs Bunny" cartoon episodes featuring rabbit-hunting Elmer Fudd as a foil; its alleged ironic use, among hunters, for a clumsy member of their fraternity; or a stereotype of deer hunters by the non-hunting population in the U.S.)