Words related to by
It forms all or part of: abaft; about; alley (n.1) "open passage between buildings;" ambagious; ambassador; ambi-; ambidexterity; ambidextrous; ambience; ambient; ambiguous; ambit; ambition; ambitious; amble; ambulance; ambulant; ambulate; ambulation; ambulatory; amphi-; amphibian; Amphictyonic; amphisbaena; Amphiscians; amphitheater; amphora; amputate; amputation; ancillary; andante; anfractuous; be-; begin; beleaguer; between; bivouac; but; by; circumambulate; embassy; ember-days; funambulist; ombudsman; perambulate; perambulation; preamble; somnambulate; somnambulism; umlaut.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit abhitah "on both sides," abhi "toward, to;" Avestan aibi; Greek amphi "round about;" Latin ambi- "around, round about;" Gaulish ambi-, Old Irish imb- "round about, about;" Old Church Slavonic oba; Lithuanian abu "both;" Old English ymbe, German um "around."
"insolent person, boisterous fellow," 1560s, a mock surname from rude + -by, common ending element in place-names (and thus surnames), as in Grimsby, Rigby, Catesby. Similar formations in idlesby "lazy fellow" (1610s), sneaksby "paltry, sneaking fellow" (1570s), suresby (16c.), lewdsby (1590s), nimblesby (1610s).
Middle English aboute, from Old English abutan (adv., prep.), earlier onbutan "on the outside of; around the circumference of, enveloping; in the vicinity of, near; hither and thither, from place to place," also "with a rotating or spinning motion," in late Old English "near in time, number, degree, etc., approximately;" a compound or contraction of on (see on; also see a- (1)) + be "by" (see by) + utan "outside," from ut (see out (adv.)).
By c. 1300 it had developed senses of "around, in a circular course, round and round; on every side, so as to surround; in every direction;" also "engaged in" (Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?), and gradually it forced out Old English ymbe, ymbutan (from PIE root *ambhi- "around") in the sense "round about, in the neighborhood of."
From mid-13c. as "in the matter, in connection with." From early 14c. as "in partial rotation, so as to face in a different direction." From late 14c. as "near at hand, about one's person." "In a circuitous course," hence "on the move" (late 13c.), and in Middle English "be about to do, be busy in preparation for," hence its use as a future participle in (to be) about to "in readiness, intending." Abouts (late 14c.), with adverbial genitive, still found in hereabouts, etc., probably is a northern dialectal form.
To bring about "cause or affect" and to come about "happen" are from late 14c. About face as a military command (short for right about face) is first attested 1861, American English.
Middle English above, aboven (also aboun in northern dialects, abow in southwestern dialects), from Old English abufan (adv., prep.), earlier onbufan "above, in or to a higher place, on the upper side; directly over, in or to a higher place than," a contraction or compound of on (also see a- (1)) + bufan "over."
The second element is itself a compound of be "by" (see by) + ufan "over/high" (from Proto-Germanic *ufan-, source also of Old Saxon, Old High German oban, German oben; from PIE root *upo "under," also "up from under," hence also "over").
From c. 1200 as "of higher rank or position, superior in authority or power; of higher rank than, superior to." This sense in Middle English perhaps was reinforced by a literal use of above in the sense "higher at the table than," thus "in a place of greater honor than, taking precedence over" (mid-14c.) From mid-14c. as "in addition to;" also "superior to, out of reach of, not condescending to." From late 14c. as "more" (in number, linear measurement, weight, value); "older; better than, more desirable than, superior to."
Phrase above all "before other considerations" is from late 14c. To be above (someone's) head in the figurative sense "out of range of his or her intellect" is from 1914 (above in the sense "not to be grasped or understood by" is from mid-14c.). In Middle English to be above erthe was "above ground, unburied," hence "living, among the living."
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).
As a conjunction, "previous to the time when," from c. 1200. Contrasting before and after in illustrations is from Hogarth (1768). Before the mast in old sailing ship jargon in reference to the life of a common sailor is from the place of their berths, in front of the fore-mast.
Old English behindan "at the back of, after," from bi "by" (see by) + hindan "from behind" (see hind (adj.)). The prepositional sense emerged in Old English. Figurative sense "not so far advanced, not on equality with" is from c. 1200. Euphemistic noun meaning "backside of a person" is from 1786. To do something behind (someone's) back "clandestinely" is from late 14c. Phrase behind the times is by 1826. Behind the scenes (1711) is from the theater; figurative sense attested by 1779.