Larger font
Smaller font
Etymology dictionary - Contents
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font

    bistro (n.) — blandiloquence (n.)

    bistro (n.)

    1906, from French bistro (1884), originally Parisian slang for "little wineshop or restaurant," which is of unknown origin. Commonly said to be from Russian bee-stra "quickly," picked up during the Allied occupation of Paris in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon; but this, however quaint, is unlikely. Another guess is that it is from bistraud "a little shepherd," a word of the Poitou dialect, from biste "goat."ETD bistro (n.).2

    bit (n.1)

    "small piece," c. 1200; related Old English bite "act of biting," and bita "piece bitten off," which probably are the source of the modern words meaning "boring-piece of a drill" (the "biting" part, 1590s), "mouthpiece of a horse's bridle" (mid-14c.), and "a piece (of food) bitten off, morsel" (c. 1000). All from Proto-Germanic *biton (source also of Old Saxon biti, Old Norse bit, Old Frisian bite, Middle Dutch bete, Old High German bizzo "biting," German Bissen "a bite, morsel"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split."ETD bit (n.1).2

    The meaning "small piece, fragment" of anything is from c. 1600. The sense of "short space of time" is 1650s. Theatrical bit part is from 1909. The colloquial sense of "small coin" in two bits, etc. is originally from the U.S. South and the West Indies, in reference to silver wedges cut or stamped from Spanish dollars (later Mexican reals); transferred to "eighth of a dollar."ETD bit (n.1).3

    bit (n.2)

    computerese word, 1948, coined by U.S. computer pioneer John W. Tukey, an abbreviation of binary digit, probably chosen for its identity with bit (n.1).ETD bit (n.2).2

    bit (v.)

    past tense of bite.ETD bit (v.).2

    bitching (adj.)

    also bitchen, "good," teen/surfer slang attested from 1950s, apparently from bitch (v.) in some inverted sense. The noun meaning "complaining" is attested by 1945, U.S. armed services.ETD bitching (adj.).2

    bitch (n.)

    Old English bicce "female dog," probably from Old Norse bikkjuna "female of the dog" (also of the fox, wolf, and occasionally other beasts), which is of unknown origin. Grimm derives the Old Norse word from Lapp pittja, but OED notes that "the converse is equally possible." As a term of contempt applied to women, it dates from c. 1400; of a man, c. 1500, playfully, in the sense of "dog." Used among male homosexuals from 1930s. In modern (1990s, originally African-American vernacular) slang, its use with reference to a man is sexually contemptuous, from the "woman" insult.ETD bitch (n.).2

    Bitch goddess coined 1906 by William James; the original one was success.ETD bitch (n.).3

    bitch (v.)

    "to complain," attested from at least 1930, perhaps from the sense in bitchy, perhaps influenced by the verb meaning "to bungle, spoil," which is recorded from 1823. But bitched in this sense seems to echo Middle English bicched "cursed, bad," a general term of opprobrium (as in Chaucer's bicched bones "unlucky dice"), which despite the hesitation of OED, seems to be a derivative of bitch (n.).ETD bitch (v.).2

    bitchery (n.)

    "vileness or coarseness in a woman" [Century Dictionary, 1889], 1530s; see bitch (n.) + -ery.ETD bitchery (n.).2

    bitchy (adj.)

    1925, U.S. slang, "sexually provocative;" later (1930s) "spiteful, catty, bad-tempered" (usually of females); from bitch + -y (2). Earlier in reference to male dogs thought to look less rough or coarse than usual.ETD bitchy (adj.).2

    Related: Bitchily; bitchiness.ETD bitchy (adj.).3

    bite (v.)

    Old English bitan "to pierce or cut with the teeth" (class I strong verb; past tense bat, past participle biten), from Proto-Germanic *beitanan (source also of Old Saxon bitan, Old Norse and Old Frisian bita "cut, pierce, penetrate," Middle Dutch biten, Dutch bijten, German beissen, Gothic beitan "to bite"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split," with derivatives in Germanic referring to biting.ETD bite (v.).2

    To bite the bullet is said to be 1700s military slang, from old medical custom of having the patient bite a lead bullet during an operation to divert attention from pain and reduce screaming. Figurative use of this is from 1891; the custom itself attested from 1840s.ETD bite (v.).3

    Figurative bite (one's) tongue "refrain from speaking" is by 1590s; to bite (one's) lip to repress signs of some emotion or reaction is from early 14c. To bite off more than one can chew (c. 1880) is U.S. slang, from plug tobacco.ETD bite (v.).4

    To bite the dust "be thrown or struck down," hence "be vanquished, die, be slain, perish in battle" is from 1750, earlier bite the ground (1670s), lick the dust (late 14c.), which OED identifies as "a Hebraism," but Latin had the same image; compare Virgil's procubuit moriens et humum semel ore momordit.ETD bite (v.).5

    bite (n.)

    late Old English bite, "a biting, an act of piercing with the teeth;" c. 1200, "a mouthful, a morsel of food," from Proto-Germanic bitiz (source also of Old Frisian biti "a bite, a cut, penetration of a weapon," Old Norse bit "a bite," Old Saxon biti, Middle Dutch bete "a bite, bit"), from the source of bite (v.). It is attested from early 15c. as "a mark left by biting," by 1865 as "the catch or hold of one mechanical part on another."ETD bite (n.).2

    biting (adj.)

    c. 1300, "sharply painful," present-participle adjective from bite (v.). The sense of "pungent, sharp in taste" is from mid-14c.; that of "sarcastic, painful to the mind or feelings" is from late 14c. Related: Bitingly.ETD biting (adj.).2

    biter (n.)

    "one who or that which bites" in any sense, c. 1300, agent noun from bite (v.). Also in Middle English "a slanderer" (early 15c.).ETD biter (n.).2

    bi-theism (n.)

    also bitheism, "belief in two gods" (typically a good and an evil one), 1857, from bi- "two" + -theism.ETD bi-theism (n.).2

    bitmap (n.)

    1973, in computer jargon, from bit (n.2) + map. Literally, a map of bits.ETD bitmap (n.).2

    bitsy (adj.)

    "small," 1883, baby-talk from plural of bit (n.1) or a variant of bitty (q.v.).ETD bitsy (adj.).2

    bitt (n.)

    nautical, "strong post to which cables are made fast" (usually in plural, bitts), 1590s, a word of uncertain origin; compare Old Norse biti "crossbeam." Probably somehow related to bit (n.1).ETD bitt (n.).2


    past participle of bite.ETD bitten.2

    bitterness (n.)

    Middle English biternesse, from Old English biternys "bitterness" of taste or smell," also "anguish, grief, misery;" see bitter + -ness. By mid-14c. as "ill will, malice."ETD bitterness (n.).2

    bitter (adj.)

    Old English biter "having a harsh taste, sharp, cutting; angry, full of animosity; cruel," from Proto-Germanic *bitras- (source also of Old Saxon bittar, Old Norse bitr, Dutch bitter, Old High German bittar, German bitter, Gothic baitrs "bitter"), from suffixed form of PIE root *bheid- "to split" (source also of Old English bitan "to bite;" see bite (v.)). Evidently the meaning drifted in prehistoric times from "biting, of pungent taste," to "acrid-tasting." Used figuratively in Old English of states of mind and words. Related: Bitterly.ETD bitter (adj.).2

    bitters (n.)

    bitter-tasting medicines generally, 1713, from bitter. Especially a liquor in which bitter herbs or roots are steeped, used medicinally.ETD bitters (n.).2

    bitter end (n.)

    by 1759 in lexicons of nautical language, "the part of a cable which is round about the bitts" (the two great timbers used to belay cables) when the ship is at anchor (see bitt).ETD bitter end (n.).2

    When a cable is played out to the bitter end, there is no more left to play. Hence the term began to be used c. 1835 in non-nautical language and with probable influence of if not displacement by bitter (adj.).ETD bitter end (n.).3

    bittern (n.)

    heron-like European bird, c. 1300, bitour, botor, from Old French butor "bittern," which is perhaps from Gallo-Roman *butitaurus, from Latin butionem "bittern" + taurus "bull" (see steer (n.)); according to Pliny, so called because of its booming voice, but this seems fanciful. The modern form in English is attested from 1510s.ETD bittern (n.).2

    bittersweet (adj.)

    "uniting bitterness and sweetness," 1610s, from bitter (adj.) + sweet (adj.). Perhaps older, as the same word is used as a noun in Middle English (late 14c.) for drinks or experiences that are both bitter and sweet and especially in reference to a type of apple; later of woody nightshade (1560s). Greek had a similarly formed compound, glykypikros, literally "sweet-bitter."ETD bittersweet (adj.).2

    bitty (adj.)

    "small," 1898, baby-talk, from bit (n.1) + -y (2). Earlier "made up of little bits," 1873.ETD bitty (adj.).2

    bitumen (n.)

    a name given by the Roman writers to various hydrocarbons including asphalt and petroleum, mid-15c., from Latin bitumen "asphalt, mineral pitch," probably, via Oscan or Umbrian, from Celtic *betu- "birch, birch resin" (compare Gaulish betulla "birch," used by Pliny for the tree supposedly the source of bitumen). Related: Bituminate.ETD bitumen (n.).2

    bituminous (adj.)

    "of the nature of or resembling asphalt," 1610s, from French bitumineux, from Latin bituminosus, from bitumen (see bitumen).ETD bituminous (adj.).2

    bivalent (adj.)

    1864, in chemistry, applied to an element an atom of which can replace two atoms of hydrogen or other univalent element, from bi- + -valent (see valence in the chemistry sense). By 1899 in reference to chromosomes.ETD bivalent (adj.).2

    bivalence (n.)

    "state or quality of being bivalent," 1868; see bivalent + -ence. Bivalency is from 1872. Divalence later was said to be the preferred word.ETD bivalence (n.).2

    bivalve (adj.)

    1660s in reference to mollusks with hinged double shells; 1670s in reference to shutters or doors having two folding parts; from bi- + valve. The noun is attested by 1680s in the mollusk sense.ETD bivalve (adj.).2

    bivariate (adj.)

    also bi-variate, "involving two variables," 1906, from bi- + -variate, from Latin variatio (see variation).ETD bivariate (adj.).2

    bivious (adj.)

    "having two ways or paths," 1640s, from Latin bivius, from bi- "two" (see bi-) + via "path, way" (see via).ETD bivious (adj.).2

    bivouac (n.)

    1702, "encampment of soldiers that stays up on night watch in the open air, dressed and armed," from French bivouac (17c.), said to be a word from the Thirty Years' War, ultimately from Swiss/Alsatian biwacht "night guard," from bei- (from Old High German bi- "by," here perhaps as an intensive prefix; see by) + wacht "guard" (from Proto-Germanic *wahtwo, from PIE root *weg- "to be strong, be lively").ETD bivouac (n.).2

    The sense of "outdoor camp" is from 1853. According to OED, not a common word in English before the Napoleonic Wars. Italian bivacco is from French. As a verb, 1809, "to post troops in the night;" the meaning "camp out-of-doors without tents" is from 1814.ETD bivouac (n.).3

    bi-weekly (adj.)

    also biweekly, 1865, from bi- "two, twice" + weekly. The sense of "twice a week" is the earliest attested, but that of "every two weeks" is equally implied and preferred, the "twice-a-week" meaning going with semi-weekly.ETD bi-weekly (adj.).2

    biz (n.)

    1862, American English, colloquial and phonetic shortening of business.ETD biz (n.).2

    bizarre (adj.)

    "fantastical, odd, grotesque," 1640s, from French bizarre "odd, fantastic" (16c.), from Italian bizarro "irascible, tending to quick flashes of anger" (13c.), from bizza "fit of anger, quick flash of anger" (13c.). The sense in Italian evolved to "unpredictable, eccentric," then "strange, weird," in which sense it was taken into French and then English. The older proposed derivation from Basque bizar "a beard" is no longer considered tenable.ETD bizarre (adj.).2


    obsolete form of bice.ETD bize.2

    blab (v.)

    mid-15c., blabben, "to talk idly and foolishly, talk too much," apparently from Middle English noun blabbe "one who does not control his tongue" (late 13c.), which probably is echoic (compare Old Norse blabbra, Danish blabbre "babble," German plappern "to babble"). It is attested from c. 1600 as "to talk indiscreetly." Related: Blabbed; blabbing.ETD blab (v.).2

    The exact relationship between the noun and verb blab and blabber is difficult to determine. The noun was "[e]xceedingly common in 16th and 17th c.; unusual in literature since c 1750" [OED]. Middle English also had lab (v.) "talk foolishly, let out a secret" (late 14c.), which is said to be from Low German; hence also labster (Middle English labestere, late 13c.) "female gossip, a scold."ETD blab (v.).3

    blabber (v.)

    mid-14c., "to speak as an infant speaks," frequentative of blabben, which is of echoic origin (see blab). The meaning "to talk excessively" is from late 14c. Related: Blabbered; blabbering.ETD blabber (v.).2

    blabbermouth (n.)

    also blabber-mouth, "one who talks excessively and indiscreetly," 1931, from blabber + mouth (n.).ETD blabbermouth (n.).2

    black (v.)

    c. 1200, intransitive, "become black;" early 14c., transitive, "make black, darken, put a black color on;" from black (adj.). Especially "clean and polish (boots, shoes, etc.) by blacking and brushing them" (1550s). Related: Blacked; blacking.ETD black (v.).2

    blackness (n.)

    "quality of being black; black color," late 14c., from black (adj.) + -ness.ETD blackness (n.).2

    black (n.)

    Old English blæc "the color black," also "ink," from noun use of black (adj.). It is attested from late 14c. as "dark spot in the pupil of the eye." The meaning "dark-skinned person, African" is from 1620s (perhaps late 13c., and blackamoor is from 1540s). The meaning "black clothing" (especially when worn in mourning) is from c. 1400.ETD black (n.).2

    To be in black-and-white, meaning in writing or in print, is from 1650s (white-and-black is from 1590s); the notion is of black characters on white paper. In the visual arts, "with no colors but black and white," it is by 1870 of sketches, 1883 of photographs. To be in the black (1922) is from the accounting practice of recording credits and balances in black ink.ETD black (n.).3

    blacking (n.)

    1570s, "thing which makes (something else) black;" c. 1600, "action of making black," verbal noun from black (v.).ETD blacking (n.).2

    black (adj.)

    Old English blæc "absolutely dark, absorbing all light, of the color of soot or coal," from Proto-Germanic *blakaz "burned" (source also of Old Norse blakkr "dark," Old High German blah "black," Swedish bläck "ink," Dutch blaken "to burn"), from PIE *bhleg- "to burn, gleam, shine, flash" (source also of Greek phlegein "to burn, scorch," Latin flagrare "to blaze, glow, burn"), from root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn." The usual Old English word for "black" was sweart (see swart).ETD black (adj.).2

    The same root produced Middle English blake "pale," from Old English blac "bright, shining, glittering, pale;" the connecting notions being, perhaps, "fire" (bright) and "burned" (dark), or perhaps "absence of color." According to OED, in Middle English "it is often doubtful whether blac, blak, blake, means 'black, dark,' or 'pale, colourless, wan, livid' "; and the surname Blake can mean either "one of pale complexion" or "one of dark complexion."ETD black (adj.).3

    Black was used of dark-skinned people in Old English. Of coffee with nothing added, attested by 1796. The meaning "fierce, terrible, wicked" is from late 14c. The figurative senses often come from the notion of "without light," moral or spiritual. Latin niger had many of the same figurative senses ("gloomy; unlucky; bad, wicked, malicious"). The metaphoric use of the Greek word, melas, however, tended to reflect the notion of "shrouded in darkness, overcast." In English it has been the color of sin and sorrow at least since c. 1300; the sense of "with dark purposes, malignant" emerged 1580s (in black art "necromancy;" it is also the sense in black magic).ETD black (adj.).4

    Black drop (1823) was a liquid preparation of opium, used medicinally. Black-fly (c. 1600) was a name given to various insects, especially an annoying pest of the northern American woods. Black Prince as a nickname of the eldest son of Edward III is attested by 1560s; the exact signification is uncertain. Black flag, flown (especially by pirates) as a signal of no mercy, is from 1590s. Black dog "melancholy" is attested from 1826.ETD black (adj.).5

    Black belt is from 1870 in reference to district extending across the U.S. South with heaviest African population (also sometimes in reference to the fertility of the soil); it is attested from 1913 in the judo sense, worn by one who has attained a certain high degree of proficiency. Black power is from 1966, associated with Stokely Carmichael. Black English "English as spoken by African-Americans," is by 1969. The Black Panther (1965) movement was an outgrowth of Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee. Black studies is attested from 1968.ETD black (adj.).6

    blackamoor (n.)

    "dark-skinned person, black-skinned African," 1540s, from black (adj.) + Moor, with connecting element.ETD blackamoor (n.).2

    blackball (v.)

    also black-ball, "to exclude from a club by adverse votes," 1770, from black (adj.) + ball (n.1). The image is of the black balls of wood or ivory that were dropped into an urn as adverse votes during secret ballots. Related: Blackballed; blackballing.ETD blackball (v.).2

    blackberry (n.)

    "fruit of the bramble," early 12c., from Old English blaceberian, from black (adj.) + berry. So called for the color. Also in Old English as bremelberie, bremelæppel (from bramble). The wireless handheld device of the same name was introduced 1999 and decommissioned in 2022. Related: Blackberrying.ETD blackberry (n.).2

    blackbird (n.)

    late 15c. (late 13c. as a surname), from black (adj.) + bird (n.1). Originally in reference to a large species of European thrush, the male of which is wholly black; applied in the New World to other similar birds. OED says they are so called for being the only "black" (really dark brown) bird among the songbirds, reflecting an older sense of bird that did not include rooks, crows, or ravens.ETD blackbird (n.).2

    blackboard (n.)

    "board painted black and written on in chalk," especially as used in schoolrooms, 1823, from black (adj.) + board (n.1). Blackboard jungle "inner-city school rife with juvenile delinquency" is from Evan Hunter's novel title (1954).ETD blackboard (n.).2

    black box (n.)

    1947, RAF slang for "navigational instruments;" later extended to any sort of apparatus that operates in a sealed container. Especially of flight recorders from c. 1964.ETD black box (n.).2

    black code (n.)

    local or state legal restrictions on black persons, free or slave, 1774, American English, though the first reference is to French colonies in the West Indies.ETD black code (n.).2

    black comedy (n.)

    1961, "comedy that deals in themes and subjects usually regarded as serious or taboo," from black (adj.), in a figurative sense of "morbid," + comedy. Compare French pièce noire, also comédie noire "macabre or farcical rendering of a violent or tragic theme" (1958, perhaps the inspiration for the English term) and 19th-century gallows-humor. In a racial sense, from 1921.ETD black comedy (n.).2

    Black Death (n.)

    "bubonic/pneumonic plague epidemic of 1347-51 in Europe," a modern name, introduced in English 1823 by Elizabeth Penrose's history of England. The contemporary 14c. name for it in most European languages was something like "the great dying" or simply "the plague;" in English it was the pestilence (or, looking back after its return in 1361-2, the first pestilence).ETD Black Death (n.).2

    The term "Black Death" first turns up in 16c. Swedish and Danish chronicles, but it is used in reference to a visitation of plague in Iceland (which had been spared in the earlier outbreaks) in 1402-3 that carried off much of the population there. The exact sense of "black" is not clear. The term appears in English translations of the Scandinavian works from 1750s. It was picked up in German c. 1770 and applied to the earlier outbreak and was taken from there into English in that sense.ETD Black Death (n.).3

    blacken (v.)

    c. 1200, "become black or dark;" early 14c., "make black, darken, dye (hair);" see black (adj.) + -en (1). The figurative sense of "to besmirch" (with dishonor, etc.) is from early 15c. Related: Blackened; blackening.ETD blacken (v.).2

    black eye (n.)

    "discoloration around the eye from injury" c. 1600, from black (adj.) + eye (n.). The figurative sense of "injury to pride, rebuff" is by 1744; that of "bad reputation" is from 1880s.ETD black eye (n.).2

    In reference to dark eyes, often as a mark of beauty, from 1660s. Black-eyed is from 1590s in reference to women, from 1728 in reference to peas. The black-eyed Susan as a flower name (various species) is by 1881, for their appearance. It also was the title of a poem by John Gay (1685-1732), which led to a popular mid-19c. British stage play of the same name.ETD black eye (n.).3


    also black-face, 1868 (the phrase itself seems not to have been common in print before 1880s) in reference to a performance style, originated in U.S., where (typically) non-black performers used burnt cork or other theatrical make-up to blacken their faces, from black (adj.) + face (n.). The thing itself is older, from the 1830s.ETD blackface.2

    black friar (n.)

    "friar of the Dominican order," c. 1500, so called from the color of their dress.ETD black friar (n.).2

    Black Friday (n.)

    popular name for the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday (which always is a Thursday), in modern times the day which opens the Christmas shopping season and thus for stores often the busiest and biggest sales day of the year, but the exact sense of black (adj.) in it is uncertain.ETD Black Friday (n.).2

    It is attested by 1970 (in Philadelphia newspaper columns), said to be perhaps a merchants' term and a reference to the black ink that records profits. But the early articles also credit the expression to those who had the job of managing the crowds.ETD Black Friday (n.).3

    Earlier Black Friday had been used principally of Fridays when financial markets crashed (1866, 1869, 1873, 1929), the Kennedy assassination (1963) and other dark events.ETD Black Friday (n.).4

    blackguard (n.)

    1530s, "scullion, kitchen knave," of uncertain origin. Perhaps it is a reference to military units or attendants so called for the color of their dress or their character. It might have been originally a mock-military reference to scullions and kitchen-knaves of noble households, black-liveried personal guards, and shoeblacks. See black (adj.) + guard (n.). By 1736 the sense had emerged of "one of the idle criminal class; man of coarse and offensive manners." Hence the adjectival use (1784), "of low or worthless character."ETD blackguard (n.).2

    Black Hand (n.)

    Italian immigrant secret society in U.S., 1904; earlier a Spanish anarchist society, both from the warning mark they displayed to potential victims.ETD Black Hand (n.).2

    blackhead (n.)

    "comedo," 1837, from black (adj.) + head (n.). So called for its appearance.ETD blackhead (n.).2

    black-hearted (adj.)

    "having a cruel or malicious heart," 1792, from black (adj.) + -hearted. Greek had the same image in melanokardios. Related: black-heartedly.ETD black-hearted (adj.).2

    Black Hills

    South Dakota landform, translating Lakhota pahá-sapa; supposedly so called because their densely forested flanks look dark from a distance.ETD Black Hills.2

    black hole (n.)

    in astrophysics, 1968, probably with awareness of the notorious Black Hole of Calcutta, incident of June 19, 1756, in which 146 British POWs taken by the Nawab of Bengal after the capture of Fort William were held overnight in a punishment cell of the barracks (meant to hold 4 people) and all but 23 perished.ETD black hole (n.).2

    blackie (n.)

    also blacky, "a black person," 1815, from black (adj.) + -y (3).ETD blackie (n.).2

    blackish (adj.)

    "somewhat black, moderately dark," mid-15c., of precious stones and sick bodies, from black (adj.) + -ish.ETD blackish (adj.).2

    blackjack (n.)

    used in various senses since 16c., the earliest is possibly that of "tar-coated leather jug for beer" (1590s), from black (adj.) + jack in any of its many slang meanings. It is attested from 1867 as "pirate flag." The hand-weapon is so called from 1889; the card game by 1900.ETD blackjack (n.).2

    blackleg (n.)

    "swindler," originally especially in equestrian events, 1771, from black (adj.) + leg (n.), but the exact signification is uncertain.ETD blackleg (n.).2

    Used from 1865 of strike-breakers and workmen who refused to join trade unions.ETD blackleg (n.).3

    black-letter (n., adj.)

    name for old-style "Gothic" fonts, 1640s, from black (adj.); so called at the time to distinguish heavy printers' types from the lighter ones coming into use, which are the dominant modern forms. A style of black letter was preserved in German into 20c.ETD black-letter (n., adj.).2

    blackly (adv.)

    "with a black or dark appearance," 1560s, from black (adj.) + -ly (2).ETD blackly (adv.).2

    black-light (n.)

    "light rays beyond the visible spectrum," 1927, from black (adj.) + light (n.).ETD black-light (n.).2

    blacklist (n.)

    also black-list, "list of persons who have incurred suspicion, earned punishment, or are for any reason deemed objectionable by the makers and users of the list," 1610s, from black (adj.), here indicative of disgrace, censure, punishment (a sense attested from 1590s, in black book) + list (n.1). Specifically of employers' list of workers considered troublesome (usually for union activity) by 1884. As a verb, from 1718. Related: Blacklisted; blacklisting.ETD blacklist (n.).2

    blackmail (n.)

    1550s, "tribute paid to men allied with criminals as protection against pillage, etc.," from black (adj.) + Middle English male "rent, tribute." This is from Old English mal "lawsuit, terms, bargaining, agreement," from Old Norse mal "speech, agreement;" related to Old English mæðel "meeting, council," mæl "speech," Gothic maþl "meeting place," from Proto-Germanic *mathla-, from PIE *mod- "to meet, assemble" (see meet (v.)).ETD blackmail (n.).2

    The word comes from the freebooting clan chieftains who ran protection rackets against farmers in Scotland and northern England. The custom persisted until mid-18c. Black from the evil of the practice. The sense expanded by 1826 to mean any extortion by means of intimidation, especially by threat of exposure or scandal. Compare silver mail "rent paid in money" (1590s); buttock-mail (Scottish, 1530s) "fine imposed for fornication."ETD blackmail (n.).3

    blackmail (v.)

    "to extort money or goods from by intimidation or threat," especially of exposure of some wrong-doing, 1852, from blackmail (n.). Related: Blackmailed; blackmailing.ETD blackmail (v.).2

    black market (n.)

    "unauthorized dealing in restricted or rationed commodities," 1931, from black (adj.), probably suggesting "dark, invisible" or "shady, improper," + market (n.). As an adjective by 1935. Use of the phrase rose when World War II rationing began.ETD black market (n.).2

    blackout (n.)

    also black-out, 1908 in the theatrical sense of a darkened stage, from the verbal phrase; see black (v.) + out (adv.). The figurative sense of "loss of memory" is by 1934 (verb and noun); as "a dousing of lights as an air raid precaution," it is recorded from 1935. The verbal phrase black out, in reference to using black ink to cover printed or written matter deemed objectionable, is attested from 1888.ETD blackout (n.).2

    Black Sea

    see Euxine.ETD Black Sea.2

    black sheep (n.)

    by 1792, in the figurative sense of "person of bad character; member of some group guilty of offensive conduct that does little credit to the flock, family, or community to which he belongs," supposedly because a real black sheep (there was proverbially one in every flock) had wool that could not be dyed and thus was of less worth. But one black sheep in a flock is said to be considered good luck by shepherds in Sussex, Somerset, Kent, and Derbyshire. The first known publication of Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme is in "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book" (c. 1744).ETD black sheep (n.).2

    Black Shirt (n.)

    also blackshirt, 1922, member of Fasci di Combattimento, Italian paramilitary unit founded 1919 by Mussolini; so called for their uniforms.ETD Black Shirt (n.).2

    blacksmith (n.)

    late 15c. (mid-13c. as a surname), "smith who works in iron," from black + smith (n.). Listed in royal ordinance (along with bladesmiths, spurriers, and goldbeaters); blacksmiths worked in heated, heavy metals as opposed to those who beat gold, tin, or pewter (the material of a whitesmith).ETD blacksmith (n.).2

    black swan (n.)

    proverbial for "something extremely rare or non-existent," late 14c., from Juvenal ["Sat." vi. 164], but the real thing turned up later in Australia (Chenopsis atratus).ETD black swan (n.).2

    White crow was a similar figure in English. Blue dahlia also was used 19c. for "something rare and unheard of."ETD black swan (n.).3

    black-tie (n.)

    as an article of male attire, 1848, from black (adj.) + tie (n.). As an adjective, indicating the style of formal attire that features it, or situations where such is the proper dress, by 1933.ETD black-tie (n.).2

    blacktop (n.)

    road resurfacing material, 1931, American English, from black (adj.) + top (n.1).ETD blacktop (n.).2

    black widow (n.)

    type of venomous spider (Latrodectus mactans) in U.S. South, 1904, so called from its color and from the female's supposed habit of eating the male after mating (the males seem to get eaten more often before they mate, when they first enter the webs of the females, which have very poor eyesight). Sometimes also known as shoe-button spider. The name black widow is attested earlier (1830s) as a translation of a name of the "scorpion spider" of Central Asia.ETD black widow (n.).2

    bladder (n.)

    Middle English bladdre, from Old English blædre (West Saxon), bledre (Anglian) "urinary bladder," also "blister, pimple," from Proto-Germanic *blodram "something inflated" (source also of Old Norse blaðra, Old Saxon bladara, Old High German blattara, German Blatter, Dutch blaar), according to Watkins from PIE root *bhle- "to blow." The extended senses date from early 13c., from animal bladders being used for buoyancy, storage, etc.ETD bladder (n.).2

    blade (n.)

    Old English blæd "a leaf," also "a leaf-like part" (of a spade, oar, etc.), from Proto-Germanic *bladaz (source also of Old Frisian bled "leaf," German Blatt, Old Saxon, Danish, Dutch blad, Old Norse blað), from PIE *bhle-to-, suffixed form (past participle) of root *bhel- (3) "to thrive, bloom."ETD blade (n.).2

    The meaning was extended in Middle English to the broad, flattened bone of the shoulder (c. 1300) and the cutting part of knives and swords (early 14c.). The modern use in reference to grass may be a Middle English revival, by influence of Old French bled "corn, wheat" (11c.), which is perhaps from Germanic. The cognate in German, Blatt, is the general word for "leaf;" Laub is used collectively as "foliage." Old Norse blað was used of herbs and plants, lauf in reference to trees. This also might have been the original distinction in Old English. Compare leaf (n.).ETD blade (n.).3

    Used of men from 1590s; in later use often a reference to 18c. gallants and dashing rakes, but the original exact sense, and thus signification, is uncertain.ETD blade (n.).4

    blah (n.)

    "idle, meaningless talk," 1918, probably echoic; the adjective meaning "bland, dull" is from 1919, perhaps influenced by French blasé "bored, indifferent." The blahs "depression" is attested by 1966.ETD blah (n.).2

    blain (n.)

    Old English blegen "a sore, blister, pustule, inflammatory swelling on the body," from Proto-Germanic *blajinon "a swelling" (source also of Danish blegn, Dutch blein), from PIE *bhlei- "to swell," from root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell."ETD blain (n.).2


    masc. proper name, from Saint Blaise (Greek Blasios), early 4c. bishop and martyr in Armenia; the saint's name is of uncertain origin.ETD Blaise.2

    blame (n.)

    early 13c., "an act or expression of disapproval, rebuke, etc., for something deemed wrong;" mid-14c., "responsibility for something that is wrong, culpability," from Old French blasme "blame, reproach; condemnation," a back-formation from blasmer "to rebuke" (see blame (v.)).ETD blame (n.).2

    blame (v.)

    c. 1200, "find fault with" (opposed to praise, commend); c. 1300, "lay responsibility on for something deemed wrong," from Old French blasmer (12c., Modern French blâmer) "to rebuke, reprimand, condemn, criticize," from Vulgar Latin *blastemare, from Late Latin blasphemare "to blaspheme, to speak lightly or amiss of God or sacred things," which also had a sense of "revile, reproach" (see blaspheme). Replaced Old English witan (with long "i"). Related: Blamed; blaming.ETD blame (v.).2

    blamed (adv.)

    "confoundedly" 1833, later also as an adjective (1840), from past participle of blame (v.), as a "euphemistic evasion of the horrible word damn." [Bartlett, "Dictionary of Americanisms," 1848].ETD blamed (adv.).2

    Compare also blamenation (1837) as an expletive. The imprecation blame me is attested from 1830.ETD blamed (adv.).3

    blameless (adj.)

    "not meriting disapprobation or censure, without fault," late 14c., from blame (n.) + -less. Related: Blamelessly; blamelessness. Seldom-used blameful is recorded from late 14c.ETD blameless (adj.).2

    blameworthy (adj.)

    also blame-worthy, "deserving blame," late 14c., from blame (n.) + worthy (adj.). Related: Blameworthiness.ETD blameworthy (adj.).2

    blanch (v.2)

    "to start back, shrink, turn aside," 1570s, variant of blench (q.v.). Related: Blanched; blanching.ETD blanch (v.2).2


    fem. proper name, from French Blanche, from Old French blanc "white," a word of Germanic origin (see blank (adj.)). A fairly popular name for girls born in the U.S. from about 1880 to 1900.ETD Blanche.2

    blanch (v.1)

    c. 1400, transitive, "to make white, cause to turn pale," from Old French blanchir "to whiten, wash," from blanc "white" (11c.; see blank (adj.)). In early use also "to whitewash" a building, "to remove the hull of (almonds, etc.) by soaking." Intransitive sense of "to turn white" is from 1768. Related: Blanched; blanching.ETD blanch (v.1).2

    blancmange (n.)

    "jelly-like preparation in cookery," late 14c., from Old French blancmengier (13c.), literally "white eating," originally a dish of fowl minced with cream, rice, almonds, sugar, eggs, etc.; from blanc "white" (also used in Old French of white foods, such as eggs, cream, also white meats such as veal and chicken; see blank (adj.)) + mangier "to eat" (see manger). Attempts were made nativize it (Chaucer has blankemangere); French pronunciation is evident in 18c. variant blomange, and "the present spelling is a half attempt at restoring the French" [OED].ETD blancmange (n.).2

    bland (adj.)

    "mild, smooth, free from irritating qualities, not stimulating," 1660s, from Italian blando "delicate," or Old French bland "flattering, complimentary," both from Latin blandus "smooth-talking, flattering, alluring," perhaps from PIE *mlad-, nasalized variant of *meld-, extended form of root *mel- (1) "soft." Related: Blandly; blandness.ETD bland (adj.).2

    blandiloquence (n.)

    "flattery in speech," 1650s, from Latin blandiloquentia, from blandiloquens "speaking flatteringly," from blandus "flattering, alluring" (see bland) + loquens, from loqui "to speak" (from PIE root *tolkw- "to speak"). Blandiloquous is attested earlier (1610s). Latin had also blandiloquentulus "flattering in speech."ETD blandiloquence (n.).2

    Larger font
    Smaller font