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 "a being, individual; being, existence," from stem of Greek on (genitive ontos) "being," neuter present participle of einai "to be" (from PIE root *es- "to be").
before vowels mast-, word-forming element meaning "female breast, mammary gland," from Greek mastos "woman's breast," from madan "to be wet, to flow," from PIE *mad- "wet, moist, dripping" (source also of Latin madere "be moist;" Albanian mend "suckle;" see mast (n.2)).
word-forming element in scientific compounds meaning "cartilage," from Latinized form of Greek khondros "cartilage" (of the breastbone), also "grain, grain of salt, seed, barley-grain," of uncertain origin. This is sometimes said to be from the PIE root meaning "to grind" which is the source of English grind (v.), but there are serious phonological objections and the word might be non-Indo-European [Beekes, "Etymological Dictionary of Greek"]. The body material so called for its gristly nature.
before vowels plagi-, word-forming element meaning "slanting, oblique," from Greek plagios "oblique, slanting," from plagos "side," from PIE *plag- "flat, spread," variant form of root *plak- (1) "to be flat."