Etymology – B

B – lowercase b derived from cursive form of the capital

Baal – Semitic word meaning proprietor or possessor; typically of a god as a lord of a place

Babel – a confused uproar; an allusion to the confusion of tongues at Babel

Bacchus – a corruption of Greek “Iacchus”, a shout, for he is a rowdy god; robe purple during peacetime and panther skin during wartime 

Bag O’ Nails – corruption of Bacchanals; “The Devil and the Bag O’ Nails” represents Pan

Bags of Mystery – slang for sausages or saveloys; “the allusion is obvious”

Bairam – name given to two great Mohammaden feasts; the Lesser ends Ramadan fasting, lasts three days; the Greater comes the tenth day of the twelfth month, lasts four days

Balistraria – narrow apertures in the walls of castles in the form of a cross

Balk – originally a ridge or mound on the ground then the ridge between two furrows in plowing

Ball – the dancing assembly comes from the old French “baler”, to dance

Bambino – Italian, meaning an infant; image of an infant, swaddling Jesus

Mark Banco – an invariable standard in the old Bank at Hamburg

Bandicoot – an Australian phrase meaning to steal rooty vegetables like carrots and potatoes by the root and leaving the tops so that the theft is not noticed

Baptes – priests of the lewd goddess Cotytto whose midnight orgies were so obscene that they disgusted the goddess herself and needed to be washed, “bapto”/baptised

Barb – from Latin “barba”, a beard; given to describe other barbed instruments like arrows

Barbecue – from Spanish “barbacoa”, a wooden framework set on posts

Barber’s Pole – barbers and surgeons used to be combined; white bandages and red blood

Bark – dogs in their wild state do not bark; they howl, whine, and growl; barking is acquired habit

Barmecide’s Feast – an illusion; in Arabian Nights when a beggar was presented invisible food

Baron – originally meant “a man”, a non-slave; then given to mean a king’s man; female = feme

Basil – from Greek “basilikos”, royal; an aromatic plant used to make royal perfume

Basilisk – from Greek “basileus”,a king; the king of serpents

Bastard – an illegitimate child from Old French “bast”, a pack-saddle; a pack-saddled child

Bat – from French “batte”, a wooden sword

Bathos – Greek for “depth”; a ludicrous descent from grandiloquence

Battle Bowler – nickname given to WWI steel helmet; a “tin topee”

Bawtry – a man who refused to take his last liquor on his way to hanging, his reprieve arrived shortly after his hanging

Bay – bay shrubs act as a preservative against lightning because it was the tree of Apollo

Bayard – a horse of incredible swiftness; changed length based on the number of riders

Beaker – from Greek “bikos”, a wine jar

Bear – in stock exchanging, from the proverb “selling the skin before you caught the bear”

The Great Bear – constellation confused by Greeks as “arktos”, bear, for Sanskrit “rakh”, bright

Beasts of Heraldry – see Dictionary

Beau – French for “fine” or “beautiful”

Beaux Espirits – French for “men of wit or spirits”

Beaux yeux – French for beautiful eyes or attractive looks

Bedel -old form of the word “beadle”, an officer who carries a mace before the Vice-Chancellor

Beelzebub – original spelling meant “Lord of the High House”, now spelling means “Lord of Flies”

Bessee – her father presented himself as a beggar to four bachelors, only the knight accepted

Belial – Hebrew for the worthless or lawless one, i.e. the Devil

Belladonna – the Deadly Nightshade; Italian for “beautiful lady”; women used it to puff their eyes

The belly has no ears – a hungry man will not listed to advice or arguments

Belly-timber – food

Belvedere – Italian for a “fine sight”; a pleasure house built on a garden with a great view/sight

Benares – the Hindu version of Mecca, very holy city

Bendigo – nickname for William Thompson, a pugilist; left the name to a township in Australia

Benthos – from Greek for deep, meaning the deep sea-bottom and all of its aquatic creatures

Berserker – from Scandanavian mythology, a war-like being; from “baer-serce”, bare of mail

Bete Noire – French for “black beast”; thorn in the side, bitter in the cup

Beth Gelert – “Grave of the Greyhound”; story of a man who killed his greyhound thinking that it ate his baby, but it actually saved the baby from a vicious wolf

Bible – see Dictionary; first English Bible in 1380, first King James in 1611

Bicorn – a mythical beast that fed on good and enduring husbands

Bid-ale – an excuse to collect a group of people to benefit charity; usually turned into orgies

Bifrost – Icelandic “bifa”, tremble and “rost”, path; bridge between Asgard and Midgard; a rainbow is considered this bridge; kept by Heimdall

Big Ben – name of the bell in the Clock Tower/St. Stephen’s Tower; named after Sir Benjamin Hall who was commissioner of the Works when it was cast in 1856

Bilbo – a rapier or sword tempered in Bilbao, Spain

Billabong – Australian “billa”, a creek and “bong”, to die; a dried up water source

Bis – Latin “twice”; French and Italian form of “encore”

Biscuit – from Latin “bis coctum”, twice baked

Bishop – from Greek “episkopos”, an inspector or overseer

Bishop Barker – Australian term for the largest glass of beer available

Bissextile – leap year; the Romans would count Feb. 24th twice (the sixth day before March 1)

Bite the dust – to be struck from one’s horse, to be slain

Blatant Beast – a monster who speaks a hundred tongues of the most shameful things

Blaze – a white mark on the forehead of a horse and a mark in a tree to indicate a path; from German “blasz”, pale

Bleeding of a dead body – it was believed that the blood of a murdered body would gush out if the murderer approached the body

Blood, toil, tears, and sweat – used by Winston Churchill on 13 May 1940 on becoming prime minister; he said he had nothing else to offer but those four things

True blue will never stain – a noble heart will never disgrace itself; from the blue aprons worn by butchers

Blue Hen’s Chickens – nickname of inhabitants of Delaware

Boa – from Latin “bos”, a cow; believed that boas sucked the milk from cows

The Seven Bodies – of alchemists; see Dict. for metals that corresponded to certain planets

Bolshevik – member of Lenin’s revolutionary party in 1917; from Russian “bolshoi”, big/majority

Bolus – from Greek word meaning roundish lump of clay

Bomb – from Greek “bombos”, deep, humming noise/same word as boom

Bona Fide – Latin “in good faith”; able to produce credentials that you are who you say you are

Bonanza – Spanish/Portuguese word for fair weather at sea/prosperity; miners on the Pacific coast applied it to a rich body of ore in a mine

Bonfire – originally “bone-fire”; three fires: wood fire, bone fire, and St. John’s fire made of both

Bonus – from Latin for “good”

Book – from German “buche”, a beech-tree; beech-bark was used to carve names

Boomer – Australian word for kangaroo; used since early 1800’s

Boreas – Greek god of the north wind; son of the Titan Astraeus and Eros, the morning

Boss – from Dutch “baas”, head of the household

Boustrophedon – from Greek “boustrepho”, ox-turning; a method of writing in early Greek in which the lines run alternatively from right to left and left to right, like ploughing

Brahma – Hindu absolute God; later given personality and became the Creator of the universe; the first in the divine Triad followed by Vishnu (the maintainer) and Siva (the destroyer)

Brand-new – brand comes from the anglo-saxon word for torch; as new as straight from the fire

He has the brand of villian in his looks – convicts were once branded with a letter on their person that corresponded with their crime; abolished in 1822

Brandy – spirit distilled from the fermented juice of the grape

Breaking a Stick – marriage rite in Native ceremonies; an almond stick was used for proving the worth of suitors for the Virgin Mary, Joseph was able to break the stick

Brennus – name of a Gaulish chief who overran Italy in 390 B.C.; Latin form of the Celtic word “Brenhin”, king or war-chief; Bran is a common Welsh name derivative

Brilliant – form of cutting precious stones by Vincenzo Peruzzi; perfect brilliant has 58 facets

Great Britain – term first used in 1604 to describe James I as “King of Great Britain”

Order of the British Empire – instituted 1917; descending order: GBE, KBE, CBE, OBE, MBE

The British Lion – the pugnacity of the British nation

Broach – beer barrels are tapped by means of a peg called a broach

Broadcasting – first station in 1920; Marconi Co. in 1922 followed by BBCo, later BBC in 1926

Steve Brodie – known as “the man who wouldn’t take a dare”; jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886 for $200

Broker – originally one who broached wine then sold it; later one who buys and sells again

Brother – “friar” is really the same word; from Latin “frater” and French “frare”

Brownie – house spirit in Scottish superstition; does chores at night for farm families

Brute – in myth, the first king of the Britons; inadvertently killed his father, took refuge in Greece then Britain; originally called London Troy-novant in honor of the city of Troy

The Spanish Brutus – Alphonso Perez de Guzman; his town of Castile was besieged by Don Juan who held one of Guzman’s sons and threatened to cut his throat if they did not surrender; Guzman replied “Sooner than be a traitor, I would myself lend you a sword to slay him”; his son was slain with his own sword before his eyes

Buccaneer – derived from the same word as barbecue; these pirates often smoked meat

Budget – from the French “bougette”, a wallet

Bunch of Fives – slang for hand or fist

Bundle of Sticks – Latin “fasces” means bundle of sticks, where the word fascism is derived

Burning Crown – a crown of red-hot iron set on the head of a regicide

Bury the Hatchet – the “Great Spirit” commanded Natives to bury their hatchets and other weapons in order to put an end to all hostilities, peace among nations

Buster – anything of large or unusual size; a “whacking great lie”; big fish