second letter of the Greek alphabet, c. 1300, from Greek, from Hebrew/Phoenician beth (see alphabet); used to designate the second of many things. Beta radiation is from 1899 (Rutherford). Beta particle is attested from 1904. Beta male, pejorative term for a risk-avoidant, non-confrontational man perceived as a follower or supporter rather than a leader, is by 2005, transferred from zoology (birds, primates), where it is attested by 1962 (compare alpha male under alpha).
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