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    bacterial (adj.) — baler (n.)

    bacterial (adj.)

    "of or pertaining to bacteria," 1869, from bacteria + -al (1).ETD bacterial (adj.).2

    bacteria (n.)

    "unicellular microorganisms which lack an organized nucleus," and sometimes cause disease, 1847, plural of Modern Latin bacterium, from Greek bakterion "small staff," diminutive of baktron "stick, rod, staff, cudgel." So called because the first ones observed were rod-shaped. Introduced as a scientific word 1838 by German naturalist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg. A classical plural sometimes also erroneously used as a singular.ETD bacteria (n.).2

    The Greek word is from a PIE *bak- "staff used for support, peg" (compare Latin baculum "rod, walking stick;" Irish bacc, Welsh bach "hook, crooked staff;" Middle Dutch pegel "peg, pin, bolt"). De Vaan writes, "Since *b was very rare in PIE, and Celtic shows an unexplained geminate, we are probably dealing with a loanword from an unidentified source."ETD bacteria (n.).3

    bacteriology (n.)

    "scientific study of microbes," 1884, from German; see bacteria + -ology. Related: Bacteriological (1886); bacteriologist. Bacteriological warfare is attested from 1924.ETD bacteriology (n.).2

    bacteriophage (n.)

    "virus that parasitizes a bacterium by infecting it and reproducing inside it," 1921, from French bactériophage (1917), from bacterio-, combining form of bacteria, + -phage.ETD bacteriophage (n.).2

    bacterium (n.)

    c. 1848, singular of bacteria (q.v.).ETD bacterium (n.).2

    Bactrian (n.)

    late 14c., "inhabitant of Bactria," ancient region in what is now northwestern Afghanistan; as a type of camel c. 1600; from Latin Bactria, from Persian, literally "the western province," from bakhtar "the west."ETD Bactrian (n.).2

    bad (adj.)

    c. 1300, "inadequate, unsatisfactory, worthless; unfortunate;" late 14c., "wicked, evil, vicious; counterfeit;" from 13c. in surnames (William Badde, Petri Badde, Asketinus Baddecheese, Rads Badinteheved). Rare before 1400, and evil was more common until c. 1700 as the ordinary antithesis of good. It has no apparent relatives in other languages. It is possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its diminutive bædling "effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast," which probably are related to bædan "to defile."ETD bad (adj.).2

    Comparable words in the other Indo-European languages tend to have grown from descriptions of specific qualities, such as "ugly," "defective," "weak," "faithless," "impudent," "crooked," "filthy" (such as Greek kakos, probably from the word for "excrement;" Russian plochoj, related to Old Church Slavonic plachu "wavering, timid;" Persian gast, Old Persian gasta-, related to gand "stench;" German schlecht, originally "level, straight, smooth," whence "simple, ordinary," then "bad").ETD bad (adj.).3

    Comparative and superlative forms badder, baddest were common 14c.-18c. and used as recently as Defoe (but not by Shakespeare), but yielded to comparative worse and superlative worst (which had belonged to evil and ill).ETD bad (adj.).4

    The meaning "uncomfortable, sorry" is 1839, American English colloquial. To go bad "putrefy" is from 1884. Not bad "fairly good" is by 1771. Ironic use as a word of approval is said to be at least since 1890s orally, originally in African-American vernacular, emerging in print 1928 in a jazz context. It might have emerged from the ambivalence of expressions like bad nigger, used as a term of reproach by whites, but among blacks sometimes representing one who stood up to injustice. In the U.S. West bad man also had a certain ambivalence:ETD bad (adj.).5

    [N.B.] Persian has bad in more or less the same sense as the English word, but this is regarded by linguists as a coincidence. The forms of the words diverge as they are traced back in time (Persian bad comes from Middle Persian vat), and such accidental convergences exist across many languages, given the vast number of words in each and the limited range of sounds humans can make to signify them. Among other coincidental matches with English are Korean mani "many," Chinese pei "pay," Nahuatl (Aztecan) huel "well," Maya hol "hole."ETD bad (adj.).6

    badness (n.)

    "state of being evil, wrong, improper, deficient in quality, etc.," late 14c., baddenesse; see bad (adj.) + -ness.ETD badness (n.).2

    bad (n.)

    late 14c., "evil, wickedness," from bad (adj.).ETD bad (n.).2

    bad-ass (n.)

    also badass, "tough guy," 1950s U.S. slang, from bad (adj.) + ass (n.2).ETD bad-ass (n.).2

    badder (adj.)

    obsolete or colloquial comparative of bad (adj.), common 14c.-18c.ETD badder (adj.).2

    baddest (adj.)

    obsolete or colloquial superlative of bad (adj.), common 14c.-18c.ETD baddest (adj.).2

    baddy (n.)

    "bad man, criminal, disreputable person," 1937, from bad (adj.) + -y (3).ETD baddy (n.).2

    baddish (adj.)

    "rather bad," 1755, from bad (adj.) + -ish.ETD baddish (adj.).2


    Old English bæd, past tense of bid (v.).ETD bade.2

    badge (n.)

    "token worn to indicate the wearer's occupation, preference, etc.," especially "device worn by servants or followers to indicate their allegiance," c. 1400, bagge, from Anglo-French bage (mid-14c.) or Anglo-Latin bagis, plural of bagia "emblem," all of unknown origin. The figurative sense "mark or token" of anything is by 1520s.ETD badge (n.).2

    badger (n.)

    type of low, nocturnal, burrowing, carnivorous animal, 1520s, perhaps from bage "badge" (see badge) + reduced form of -ard "one who carries some action or possesses some quality," suffix related to Middle High German -hart "bold" (see -ard). If so, the central notion is the badge-like white blaze on the animal's forehead (as in French blaireau "badger," from Old French blarel, from bler "marked with a white spot;" also obsolete Middle English bauson "badger," from Old French bauzan, literally "black-and-white spotted"). But blaze (n.2) was the usual word for this.ETD badger (n.).2

    An Old English name for the creature was the Celtic borrowing brock; also græg (Middle English grei, grey). In American English, the nickname of inhabitants or natives of Wisconsin by 1833.ETD badger (n.).3

    badger (v.)

    "to attack persistently, worry, pester," 1790, from badger (n.), based on the behavior of the dogs in the medieval sport of badger-baiting, still practiced in late 19c. England as an attraction to low public houses. Related: Badgered; badgering.ETD badger (v.).2

    badinage (n.)

    "light railery, playful banter," 1650s, from French badinage "playfulness, jesting," from badiner (v.) "to jest, joke," from badin "silly, jesting" (16c.), from Old Provençal badar "to yawn, gape," from Late Latin badare "to gape," from *bat- "to yawn" (see abash). One who indulges in it is a badineur.ETD badinage (n.).2

    badlands (n.)

    "arid, highly eroded regions of the upper midwestern U.S.," 1850, from bad (adj.) + land (n.). Translating French Canadian Mauvaises Terres, a trapper's word, in reference to the difficulty of traversing them. Applied to urban districts of crime and vice since 1892 (originally with reference to Chicago).ETD badlands (n.).2

    badly (adv.)

    c. 1300, "unluckily;" late 14c., "wickedly, evilly; poorly, inadequately," from bad (adj.) + -ly (2). By 1814 as "incorrectly;" the meaning "very much" is by 1849, American English.ETD badly (adv.).2

    badminton (n.)

    outdoor game similar to lawn tennis but played with a shuttlecock, 1874, from Badminton House, name of Gloucestershire estate of the Duke of Beaufort, where the game first was played in England, mid-19c., having been picked up by British officers from Indian poona. The place name is Old English Badimyncgtun (972), "estate of (a man called) Baduhelm."ETD badminton (n.).2

    bad-mouth (v.)

    "abuse (someone) verbally," 1941, probably ultimately from noun phrase bad mouth (1835), in African-American vernacular, "a curse, spell," translating an idiom found in African and West Indian languages. See bad (adj.) + mouth (n.). Related: Bad-mouthed; bad-mouthing.ETD bad-mouth (v.).2

    Baedeker (n.)

    "travel guide," 1857, from German printer and bookseller Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) whose popular travel guides began the custom of rating places with one to four stars. The Baedeker raids by the Luftwaffe in April and May 1942 targeted British cultural and historical sites.ETD Baedeker (n.).2

    baffle (v.)

    1540s, "to disgrace," of uncertain origin. Perhaps a Scottish respelling of bauchle "to disgrace publicly" (especially a perjured knight), which is probably related to French bafouer "to abuse, hoodwink" (16c.), possibly from baf, a natural sound of disgust, like bah (compare German baff machen "to flabbergast"). The original sense is obsolete. The meaning "defeat someone's efforts, frustrate by interposing obstacles or difficulties" is from 1670s. Related: Baffled; baffling.ETD baffle (v.).2

    baffling (adj.)

    "bewildering, confusing, perplexing," 1733, present-participle adjective from baffle (v.); also an 18c. sailor's adjective for winds that blow variously and make headway difficult.ETD baffling (adj.).2

    baffle (n.)

    "shielding device," especially in a stove or oven, 1881 (short for baffle-plate), from baffle (v.). Earlier in the same sense was baffler (1861).ETD baffle (n.).2

    bafflement (n.)

    "state of being baffled," 1841, from baffle (v.) + -ment.ETD bafflement (n.).2

    bagful (n.)

    "as much as a bag will hold," c. 1300, bagge-ful, from bag (n.) + -ful.ETD bagful (n.).2

    bag (v.)

    early 15c., "to swell out like a bag;" also "to put (money, etc.) in a bag," from bag (n.). Earliest verbal sense was "to be pregnant" (c. 1400). Of clothes, "to hang loosely," 1824. Meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818) are from the notion of the game bag (late 15c.) into which the product of the hunt was placed. To bag school "play hookey" is by 1934. Related: Bagged; bagging.ETD bag (v.).2

    bag (n.)

    "small sack," c. 1200, bagge, probably from Old Norse baggi "pack, bundle," or a similar Scandinavian source. OED rejects connection to other Germanic words for "bellows, belly" as without evidence and finds a Celtic origin untenable. In some senses perhaps from Old French bague, which is also from Germanic.ETD bag (n.).2

    As disparaging slang for "woman" it dates from 1924 in modern use (but various specialized senses of this are much older, and compare baggage). The meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is by 1964, from African-American vernacular, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag. The meaning "fold of loose skin under the eye" is by 1867. Related: bags.ETD bag (n.).3

    Many figurative senses, such as the verb meaning "to kill game" (1814) and its colloquial extension to "catch, seize, steal" (1818) are from the notion of the game bag (late 15c.) into which the product of the hunt was placed. This also probably explains modern slang in the bag "assured, certain" (1922, American English). To be left holding the bag (and presumably nothing else), "cheated, swindled" is attested by 1793.ETD bag (n.).4

    To let the cat out of the bag "reveal the secret" is from 1760. The source is probably the French expression Acheter chat en poche "buy a cat in a bag," which is attested in 18c. French and explained in Bailey's "Universal Etymological English Dictionary" (1736), under the entry for To buy a pig in a poke as "to buy a Thing without looking at it, or enquiring into the Value of it." (Similar expressions are found in Italian and German; and in English, Wycliffe (late 14c.) has To bye a catte in þo sakke is bot litel charge). Thus to let the cat out of the bag would be to inadvertently reveal the hidden truth of a matter one is attempting to pass off as something better or different, which is in line with the earliest uses in English.ETD bag (n.).5

    bagatelle (n.)

    1630s, "a trifle, thing of no importance," from French bagatelle "knick-knack, bauble, trinket" (16c.), from Italian bagatella "a trifle," which is perhaps a diminutive of Latin baca "berry," or from one of the continental words (such as Old French bague "bundle") from the same source as English bag (n.). As "a piece of light music," it is attested from 1827.ETD bagatelle (n.).2

    bagel (n.)

    "ring-shaped hard bread roll," 1912 (beigel), from Yiddish beygl, from Middle High German boug- "ring, bracelet," from Old High German boug "a ring," related to Old English beag "ring" (in poetry, an Anglo-Saxon lord was beaggifa "ring-giver"), from Proto-Germanic *baugaz, from PIE root *bheug- "to bend," with derivatives referring to curved objects.ETD bagel (n.).2

    bag-end (n.)

    "bottom of a bag," c. 1400, from bag (n.) + end (n.).ETD bag-end (n.).2

    baggage (n.)

    mid-15c., "portable equipment of an army; plunder, loot," from Old French bagage "baggage, (military) equipment" (14c.), from bague "pack, bundle, sack," probably ultimately from the same Scandinavian source that yielded bag (n.). Later used of the bags, trunks, packages, etc., of a traveler (in this sense British English historically prefers luggage). Baggage-smasher (1847) was American English slang for "railway porter."ETD baggage (n.).2

    Used disparagingly, "worthless woman, strumpet" from 1590s; sometimes also playfully, "saucy or flirtatious woman" (1670s). Emotional baggage "detrimental unresolved feelings and issues from past experiences" is attested by 1957.ETD baggage (n.).3

    bagger (n.)

    mid-15c., "retailer in grain" (as a surname from mid-13c., probably "maker of bags"), also, 1740, "miser;" agent noun from bag (v.). Of persons who bag various things for a living, from 19c.; meaning "machine that puts things in bags" is from 1896.ETD bagger (n.).2

    baggy (adj.)

    "puffed out, hanging loosely" (like an empty bag), 1831, from bag (n.) + -y (2). Bagging in this sense is from 1590s. Baggie as a small protective plastic bag is from 1969. Baggies "baggy shorts" is from 1962, surfer slang. Related: Baggily; bagginess.ETD baggy (adj.).2


    capital of Iraq; the name is pre-Islamic and dates to the 8c., but its origin is disputed. It often is conjectured to be of Indo-European origin, from Middle Persian elements, and mean "gift of god," from bagh "god" (cognate with Russian bog "god," Sanskrit Bhaga; compare Bhagavad-Gita) + dād "given" (from PIE root *do- "to give"). But some have suggested origins for the name in older languages of the region. Marco Polo (13c.) wrote it Baudac.ETD Baghdad.2

    bagpipes (n.)

    "musical wind instrument consisting of a leather bag and pipes," late 14c., from bag (n.) + pipe (n.1). Related: Bagpipe. Known to the ancients and originally a favorite instrument in England as well as the Celtic lands. By 1912 English army officers' slang for them was agony bags. Related: Bagpiper (early 14c.).ETD bagpipes (n.).2

    baguette (n.)

    1731, a type of architectural ornament, from French baguette "a wand, rod, stick" (16c.), from Italian bacchetta, literally "a small rod," diminutive of bacchio "rod," from Latin baculum "a stick" (see bacillus). The meaning "a diamond cut long" is from 1926; that of "a long, thin loaf of French bread" is from 1958.ETD baguette (n.).2

    bah (interj.)

    exclamation of contempt, 1817, probably from French bah, Old French ba, expressing surprise, scorn, dismay. Perhaps simply a natural exclamation in such situations; compare Greek babai!, an exclamation of surprise. De Quincey condemned it as a coarse French import:ETD bah (interj.).2

    Baha'i (n.)

    1889, Beha'i, "mystical, tolerant Iranian religion," founded by a Mirza Ali Mohammed ibn Radhik, a Shiraz merchant executed for heresy in 1850, and named for his leading disciple, Baha Allah (Persian "splendor of God;" ultimately from Arabic). It also is sometimes called Babism, after the name taken by the founder, Bab-ed-Din, "gate of the faith."ETD Baha'i (n.).2


    islands discovered by Columbus in 1492, settled by English in 1648, long after the native population had been wiped out by disease or carried off into slavery; the name is said to be from Spanish baja mar "low sea," in reference to the shallow water here, but more likely represents a local name, Guanahani, the origin of which had been lost and the meaning forgotten.ETD Bahamas.2


    island kingdom in the Persian Gulf, from Arabic al-bahrayn "the two seas," from dual form of bahr "sea;" so called in reference to the bodies of water on either side of it. Related: Bahraini.ETD Bahrain.2

    bay (n.1)

    "inlet, recess in the shore of a sea or lake," c. 1400, from Old French baie, Late Latin baia (source of Spanish and Portuguese bahia, Italian baja), which is perhaps ultimately from Iberian (Celtic) bahia.ETD bay (n.1).2

    bay (n.2)

    "opening in a wall," especially a space between two columns, late 14c. from Old French baee "opening, hole, gulf," noun use of fem. past participle of bayer "to gape, yawn," from Medieval Latin batare "gape," which is perhaps of imitative origin. The meaning "compartment for storage: is from 1550s. The word is somewhat confused with bay (n.1) "inlet of the sea;" it is the bay in sick-bay and bay window (early 15c.).ETD bay (n.2).2

    bay (n.3)

    "deep-toned howl of a dog," early 14c., earlier "howling chorus raised (by hounds) when in contact with the hunted animal," c. 1300, from Old French bayer, from PIE root *bai- echoic of howling. Compare Greek bauzein, Latin baubari "to bark," Lithuanian baubti "cry," of cows, etc.; English bow-wow; also see bawl.ETD bay (n.3).2

    From the condition of a hunted animal comes the transferred sense of "final encounter," and thence, on the notion of turning to face the danger when further flight or escape is impossible, at bay.ETD bay (n.3).3

    bay (n.4)

    laurel shrub (Laurus nobilis, source of the bay-leaf), late 14c., but meaning originally only the berry, from Old French baie (12c.) "berry, seed," from Latin baca, bacca "berry, fruit of a tree or shrub, nut" (source also of Spanish baya, Old Spanish bacca, Italian bacca "a berry"), a word of uncertain origin. De Vaan writes that connection with Greek Bakhos "Bacchus" is difficult, as the Greek word probably was borrowed from an Asian language. Some linguists compare Berber *bqa "blackberry, mulberry," and suggest a common borrowing from a lost Mediterranean language.ETD bay (n.4).2

    Extension of the word to the shrub itself is from 1520s. The leaves or sprigs were woven as wreaths for conquerors or poets, hence "honorary crown or garland bestowed as a prize for victory or excellence" (1560s). Bay-leaf is from 1630s. Bay-berry (1570s) was coined after the sense of the original word had shifted to the tree.ETD bay (n.4).3

    bay (adj.)

    "reddish-brown," usually of horses, mid-14c., from Anglo-French bai (13c.), Old French bai, from Latin badius "chestnut-brown" (used only of horses), from PIE root *badyo- "yellow, brown" (source also of Old Irish buide "yellow"). As a noun, elliptical for a horse of this color.ETD bay (adj.).2

    bay (v.)

    "to bark or howl (at)," late 14c., from bay (n.3). Related: Bayed; baying.ETD bay (v.).2

    bail (v.1)

    "to dip water out of," 1610s, from baile (n.) "small wooden bucket" (mid-14c.), from nautical Old French baille "bucket, pail," from Medieval Latin *baiula (aquae), literally "porter of water," from Latin baiulare "to bear a burden" (see bail (n.1)).ETD bail (v.1).2

    To bail out "leave suddenly" (intransitive) is recorded from 1930, originally of airplane pilots. Perhaps there is some influence from bail (v.2) "procure (someone's) release from prison." Related: Bailed; bailing.ETD bail (v.1).3

    bail (n.2)

    "horizontal piece of wood in a cricket wicket," c. 1742, originally "a cross bar" of any sort (1570s), probably identical with French bail "horizontal piece of wood affixed on two stakes," and with English bail "palisade wall, outer wall of a castle" (see bailey). From 1904 as the hinged bar which holds the paper against the platen of a typewriter.ETD bail (n.2).2

    bail (n.1)

    "bond money, security given to obtain the release of a prisoner," late 15c., a sense that apparently developed from that of "temporary release (of an arrested person) from jail" (into the custody of another, who gives security for future appearance at trial), which is recorded from early 15c. That seems to have evolved from the earlier meanings "captivity, custody" (late 14c.), "charge, guardianship" (early 14c.).ETD bail (n.1).2

    The word is from Old French baillier "to control, to guard, deliver" (12c.), from Latin baiulare "to bear a burden," from baiulus "porter, carrier, one who bears burdens (for pay)," which is of uncertain origin; perhaps it is a borrowing from Germanic and cognate with the root of English pack, or perhaps from Celtic. De Vaan writes that, in either case, "PIE origin seems unlikely."ETD bail (n.1).3

    To go to (or in) bail "be released on bail" is attested from mid-15c. In late 18c. criminal slang, to give leg bail meant "to run away."ETD bail (n.1).4

    bail (v.2)

    "to procure someone's release from arrest or imprisonment" (by posting bail), 1580s, from bail (n.1); usually with out. Related: Bailed; bailing.ETD bail (v.2).2

    bailey (n.)

    Middle English baylle, "wall enclosing an outer court" of a castle, fortified city, etc. (c. 1200 in Anglo-Latin, late 13c. in place-names), a variant of bail, from Old French bail "stake, palisade, brace," which is of unknown origin, perhaps ultimately connected to Latin bacula "sticks," on notion of "stakes, palisade fence."ETD bailey (n.).2

    The word was extended to mean the outer court itself (early 14c.). Hence Old Bailey, seat of Central Criminal Court in London, so called because it stood within the ancient bailey of the city wall. The surname Bailey usually is from Old French bailli, a later form of baillif (see bailiff). Bailey's, the Irish whiskey- and cream-based liqueur, was introduced in 1974 and said to have been named for the historic Bailey's Hotel in London.ETD bailey (n.).3

    bailiff (n.)

    c. 1300 (early 13c. in surnames), "subordinate administrative or judicial officer of the English crown, king's officer in a county, hundred, or other local district;" also "keeper of a royal castle;" also "minor judiciary officer under a sheriff," who serves writs, etc.; from Old French baillif (12c., nominative baillis) "administrative official, deputy," from Vulgar Latin *baiulivus "official in charge of a castle," from Latin baiulus "porter" (see bail (n.1)). From early 14c. as "agent of a lord, overseer of an estate" who directs operations, collects rents, etc.; also used in Middle English of an elected official in a town.ETD bailiff (n.).2

    bailiwick (n.)

    mid-15c., "district of a bailiff, jurisdiction of a royal officer or under-sheriff," a contraction of baillifwik, from bailiff (q.v.) + Middle English wik, from Old English wic "village" (see wick (n.2)). The figurative sense of "one's natural or proper sphere" is by 1843.ETD bailiwick (n.).2

    bailout (n.)

    also bail-out 1945, in aviation, from the verbal phrase in reference to pilots; see bail (v.1) + out (adv.). As "federal help for private business in trouble," from 1968; it is unclear which sense of bail is meant there.ETD bailout (n.).2

    bain-marie (n.)

    "shallow, flat vessel containing hot water in which another vessel is placed to heat its contents gently," by 1733 (in a cookery book, earlier, 1724 as the name of a meat dish cooked in one), from French bain-marie, from Medieval Latin balneum Mariae, literally "bath of Mary."ETD bain-marie (n.).2

    According to French sources, perhaps so called for the gentleness of its heating; others credit the name to the supposed inventor, Mary the Jewess, mentioned in early gnostic writings and looked on since 4c. C.E. as a founder of alchemy. Middle English had balne of mary (late 15c.). French bain was used by itself in English in various sense 15c.-17c.; it is from baigner "to bathe" (12c.), from Latin balneare, from balneum "bath" (see balneal).ETD bain-marie (n.).3

    bairn (n.)

    "child" (of either gender or any age), "son or daughter," Old English bearn "child, son, descendant," from Proto-Germanic *barnan (source also of Old Saxon barn, Old Frisian bern, Old High German barn "child;" lost in modern German and Dutch), from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry," also "to bear children."ETD bairn (n.).2

    Originally a general English word, in modern English restricted to northern England and Scottish from c. 1700. This was the English form of the original Germanic word for "child" (compare child). Dutch, Old High German kind, German Kind are from a prehistoric *gen-to-m "born," from the same root as Latin gignere (see genus and compare kind (n.)). Middle English had bairn-team "brood of children."ETD bairn (n.).3

    bait (n.)

    "food put on a hook or trap to attract prey," c. 1300, from Old Norse beita "food, bait," especially for fish, from beita "cause to bite," from Proto-Germanic *baitjan, causative of *bitan, from PIE root *bheid- "to split," with derivatives in Germanic referring to biting.ETD bait (n.).2

    The noun is cognate with Old Norse beit "pasture, pasturage," Old English bat "food." The figurative sense "means of enticement" is from c. 1400.ETD bait (n.).3

    bait (v.1)

    c. 1200, "to torment or persecute (someone);" c. 1300, "to set a dog to bite and worry (an animal, especially a confined one, for sport)," from Old Norse beita "to cause to bite," from Proto-Germanic *baitjan (source also of Old English bætan "to cause to bite," Old High German beizzen "to bait," Middle High German beiz "hunting," German beizen "to hawk, to cauterize, etch"), causative of *bitan (see bite (v.)).ETD bait (v.1).2

    The earliest attested use is figurative of the literal one, which is from the popular medieval entertainment of setting dogs on some ferocious beast to bite and worry it. The verb also in Middle English could mean "put a horse or other domestic beast out to feed or graze," and, of persons, "to eat food," also figuratively "feast the eye" (late 14c.). Compare bait (n.). Related: Baited; baiting.ETD bait (v.1).3

    bait (v.2)

    "to put food on a fishing line or in a trap," c. 1400, probably from bait (n.). From 1590s as "to lure by bait." Related: Baited; baiting.ETD bait (v.2).2

    baiting (n.)

    "act of worrying a chained or confined animal with dogs," c. 1300, also figurative, verbal noun from bait (v.1). Related: Baitingly.ETD baiting (n.).2

    baited (adj.)

    c. 1600, "furnished with bait," past-participle adjective from bait (v.2). Hence, in a figurative sense, "exciting, alluring" (1650s). For bated breath see bate (v.1).ETD baited (adj.).2

    baize (n.)

    coarse woolen fabric with a nap on one side, dyed in plain colors, 1570s, bayse, from French baies, fem. plural of adjective bai "bay-colored" (12c.), from Latin badius "chestnut-colored" (see bay (n.4)). Thus probably so called for its original color. French plural taken as a singular in English.ETD baize (n.).2


    in place names (such as Baja California), Spanish baja, literally "lower," either in elevation or geography.ETD Baja.2

    bake (n.)

    1560s, "process of baking," from bake (v.). As "social gathering at which baked food is served," 1846, American English.ETD bake (n.).2

    bake (v.)

    Old English bacan "to bake, to cook by dry heat in a closed place or on a heated surface," from Proto-Germanic *bakan "to bake" (source also of Old Norse baka, Middle Dutch backen, Old High German bahhan, German backen), from PIE *bheg- (source also of Greek phogein "to roast"), extended form of root *bhē- "to warm" (see bath). Related: Baked (Middle English had baken); baking. Baked beans is attested by 1803.ETD bake (v.).2

    baking (n.)

    late 14c., "process of making bread," verbal noun from bake (v.). Baking powder "yeast substitute" is from 1850.ETD baking (n.).2

    Bakelite (n.)

    type of plastic widely used early 20c., 1909, from German Bakelit, named for Belgian-born U.S. physicist Leo Baekeland (1863-1944), who invented it. Originally a proprietary name, it is formed by the condensation of a phenol with an aldehyde.ETD Bakelite (n.).2

    baker (n.)

    Old English bæcere "baker, one who bakes (especially bread)," agent noun from bacan "to bake" (see bake (v.)). Cognate with Dutch bakker, German Bäcker, Becker. In the Middle Ages, the craft had two divisions, braun-bakeres and whit-bakeres.ETD baker (n.).2

    bakery (n.)

    1810, "place for making bread;" see bake (v.) + -ery. Replaced earlier bakehouse (c. 1400). As "shop where baked goods are sold" it was noted as an Americanism by British travelers by 1832.ETD bakery (n.).2

    baker's dozen (n.)

    Baker's dozen "thirteen" is from 1590s, said to be from an old custom.ETD baker's dozen (n.).2

    But Brewer says the custom originated when there were heavy penalties for short weight, bakers giving the extra bread to secure themselves.ETD baker's dozen (n.).3

    Also compare poulter's measure (an old verse style of 12- and 14-syllable lines), so called "from the varying number of a nominal 'dozen' of eggs" [Saintsbury, "History of English Prosody," 1906].*ETD baker's dozen (n.).4

    * He adds: "Hot cross buns, I think, have (in worthy cases) preserved latest the generous fourteen to the dozen. Thirteen was pretty common and this, I believe, holds, against the author and in favour of the retailer, in the case of books."ETD baker's dozen (n.).5

    bakestone (n.)

    "flat stone used as a griddle," c. 1200, from bake (v.) + stone (n.).ETD bakestone (n.).2

    baklava (n.)

    flaky pastry dessert made with honey and nuts, usually cut in lozenge shapes, 1650s, from Turkish.ETD baklava (n.).2

    baksheesh (n.)

    1620s (variously spelled), in India, Egypt, etc., "a gratuity, present in money," from Persian bakhshish, literally "gift," from verb bakhshidan "to give" (also "to forgive"), from PIE root *bhag- "to share out, apportion; to get a share."ETD baksheesh (n.).2


    Biblical prophet (wicked, but not false) whose story is told in Numbers xxii-xxiv; figurative of "one who makes profession of religion for the sake of gain" from 1640s. Balaam's ass speaks in a human voice in Numbers xxii ("And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay."). In old newspaper jargon Balaam came to be used for paragraphs regarding marvelous or incredible events, used to fill out short columns (1826). The name is of uncertain origin.ETD Balaam.2

    Balaclava (n.)

    "woolen head covering," especially worn by soldiers, evidently named for village near Sebastopol, site of a battle Oct. 25, 1854, in the Crimean War. But the term (originally Balaclava helmet) does not appear before 1881 and seems to have come into widespread use in the Boer War. The British troops suffered from the cold in the Crimean War, and the usage might be a remembrance of that conflict. The town name (Balaklava) often is said to be from Turkish, but is perhaps folk-etymologized from a Greek original Palakion.ETD Balaclava (n.).2

    balalaika (n.)

    stringed instrument with a triangular body, 1788, from Russian balalaika, said to be related to balabolit' "to chatter, babble," an imitative word.ETD balalaika (n.).2

    balanced (adj.)

    1590s, "in equilibrium," past-participle adjective from balance (v.). In reference to meal, diet, etc., by 1908.ETD balanced (adj.).2

    balance (n.)

    early 13c., "scales, apparatus for weighing by comparison of mass," from Old French balance "balance, scales for weighing" (12c.), also in figurative sense; from Medieval Latin bilancia, from Late Latin bilanx, from Latin (libra) bilanx "(scale) having two pans," possibly from Latin bis "twice" (from PIE root *dwo- "two") + lanx "dish, plate, scale of a balance," which is of uncertain origin.ETD balance (n.).2

    The accounting sense "arithmetical difference between the two sides of an account" is from 1580s; the meaning "sum necessary to balance the two sides of an account" is from 1620s. The meaning "what remains or is left over" is by 1788, originally in commercial slang. The sense of "physical equipoise" is from 1660s; that of "general harmony between parts" is from 1732.ETD balance (n.).3

    Many figurative uses are from the Middle English image of the scales in the hands of personified Justice, Fortune, Fate, etc.; thus in (the) balance "at risk, in jeopardy or danger" (c. 1300). Balance of power in the geopolitical sense "distribution of forces among nations so that one may not dominate another" is from 1701. Balance of trade "difference between the value of exports from a country and the value of imports into it" is from 1660s.ETD balance (n.).4

    balance (v.)

    1570s, "be equal with," from balance (n.). The meaning "serve as a counterpoise to" is from 1590s; that of "bring or keep in equilibrium" is from 1630s; that of "keep oneself in equilibrium" is from 1833. Of accounts, "settle by paying what remains due," from 1580s. Related: Balanced; balancing.ETD balance (v.).2

    balance-beam (n.)

    1798 as the cross-piece of a scales, 1813 as a type of device on a drawbridge, canal-lock, etc., from balance (n.) + beam (n.). From 1893 as a type of gymnastics apparatus.ETD balance-beam (n.).2

    balance-sheet (n.)

    "statement showing the state of credits and debits in a particular business," 1812, from balance (n.) in the accounting sense + sheet (n.1).ETD balance-sheet (n.).2

    balbutient (adj.)

    "stuttering, stammering," 1640s, from Latin balbutientem (nominative balbutiens), present participle of balbutire "to stammer," from balbus, from a PIE imitative root indicating meaningless stammering (compare Sanskrit balbala-karoti "stammers," Greek bambalyzein "to have chattering teeth," Lithuanian balbasyti, "to chatter," Serbo-Croatian blabositi, Czech beblati "to stammer").ETD balbutient (adj.).2

    balcony (n.)

    1610s, "platform projecting from a wall of a building surrounded by a wall or railing," from Italian balcone, from balco "scaffold," which is from a Germanic source (perhaps Langobardic *balko- "beam"), from Proto-Germanic *balkon- (see balk (n.)). With Italian augmentative suffix -one. From 1718 as "gallery in a theater." Until c. 1825, regularly accented on the second syllable. Related: Balconied.ETD balcony (n.).2

    bald (adj.)

    c. 1300, ballede, "wanting hair in some part where it naturally grows," of uncertain origin. Perhaps with Middle English -ede adjectival suffix, from Celtic bal "white patch, blaze" especially on the head of a horse or other animal (from PIE root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, gleam").ETD bald (adj.).2

    Compare, from the same root, Sanskrit bhalam "brightness, forehead," Greek phalos "white," Latin fulcia "coot" (so called for the white patch on its head), Albanian bale "forehead." But connection with ball (n.1), on notion of "smooth, round" also has been suggested, and if not formed from it it was early associated with it. Middle English Compendium says it probably was formed on the root of ball, and compares Old Danish bældet.ETD bald (adj.).3

    Sometimes figurative: "meager" (14c.), "without ornament" (16c.), "open, undisguised" (19c.). Of automobile tires with worn treads, by 1930. Bald eagle is attested by 1680s; so called for its white head.ETD bald (adj.).4

    baldness (n.)

    "state or quality of being bald," late 14c., from bald (adj.) + -ness.ETD baldness (n.).2

    balding (adj.)

    "going bald, losing one's hair," by 1938, from bald (adj.).ETD balding (adj.).2

    balderdash (n.)

    1590s, of obscure origin despite much 19c. conjecture; in early use "a jumbled mix of liquors" (milk and beer, beer and wine, etc.); by 1670s as "senseless jumble of words." Perhaps from dash and the first element perhaps cognate with Danish balder "noise, clatter" (see boulder). "But the word may be merely one of the numerous popular formations of no definite elements, so freely made in the Elizabethan period" [Century Dictionary].ETD balderdash (n.).2

    baldhead (n.)

    "bald-headed man," 1530s, from bald (adj.) + head (n.). Also baldpate (c. 1600).ETD baldhead (n.).2

    baldy (n.)

    "bald-headed person," 1850, from bald (adj.) + -y (3).ETD baldy (n.).2

    baldric (n.)

    "belt worn over the shoulder," c. 1300, from Old French baldre "sword-belt, crossbelt," (12c., Modern French baudrier "shoulder-belt"), which probably is from Latin balteus "belt, sword-belt," a word said by Varro to be of Etruscan origin. The English word perhaps was influenced by Middle High German balderich (which itself is from French).ETD baldric (n.).2


    masc. proper name, from Old French Baldoin (Modern French Baudouin), from a Germanic source similar to Old High German Baldawin, literally "bold friend," from bald "bold" (see bold) + wini "friend" (see win (v.)). A popular Flemish name, common in England before and after the Conquest.ETD Baldwin.2

    baleful (adj.)

    Old English bealufull "dire, wicked, cruel," with -ful + bealu "harm, injury, ruin, evil, mischief, wickedness, a noxious thing," from Proto-Germanic *balu- (source also of Old Saxon balu, Old Frisian balu "evil," Old High German balo "destruction," Old Norse bol, Gothic balwjan "to torment"), a word of uncertain etymology.ETD baleful (adj.).2

    During Anglo-Saxon times, the noun was in poetic use only (in compounds such as bealubenn "mortal wound," bealuðonc "evil thought"). The equivalent noun is missing in modern German, Danish, and Swedish, and in English bale long has been archaic or poetic only (OED says "Marked obsolete in dictionaries soon after 1600"), while baleful in modern English long has been poetic or literary only. Related: Balefully.ETD baleful (adj.).3

    bale (n.)

    "large bundle or package of merchandise prepared for transportation," early 14c., from Old French bale "rolled-up bundle" (13c., Modern French balle), from Frankish or some other Germanic source (such as Old High German balla "ball"), from Proto-Germanic *ball- (from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell"). The English word perhaps is via Flemish or Dutch, which got it from French.ETD bale (n.).2

    bale (v.)

    "to pack up in bales," 1750, from bale (n.). Related: Baled; baling.ETD bale (v.).2

    Balearic (adj.)

    "of or pertaining to the islands in the Mediterranean just east of Spain," 1660s, from Latin Balearicus, from Greek Baliarikos, from the ancient name of the islands and their inhabitants; traditionally "the slingers" (from ballein "to throw, sling") in reference to their weapons.ETD Balearic (adj.).2

    baleen (n.)

    early 14c., "whalebone," from Old French balaine "whale, whalebone" (12c.), from Latin ballaena, from Greek phallaina "whale," which is apparently phallos "swollen penis" (perhaps because of a whale's body shape) with a fem. suffix. If so, it is from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell." The b- (instead of -p-) for ph- substitution shows it entered Latin through a third language (Klein suggests Illyrian).ETD baleen (n.).2

    baler (n.)

    machine that makes bales, 1888, agent noun from bale (v.).ETD baler (n.).2

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