beach-head (n.) Look up beach-head at
also beachhead, 1940, in reference to German military tactics in World War II, from beach (n.) + head (n.), on the model of bridgehead, but the image doesn't quite work.
beachfront (adj.) Look up beachfront at
also beach-front, 1903, American English, from beach (n.) + front (n.). The beach front was a standard way in late 19c. to express "the seashore of a town" such as Atlantic City.
beacon (n.) Look up beacon at
Old English beacen "sign, portent, lighthouse," from West Germanic *baukna "beacon, signal" (source also of Old Frisian baken, Old Saxon bokan, Old High German bouhhan); probably from Proto-Germanic *baukna- "beacon, signal," from suffixed form of PIE root *bha- (1) "to shine." Figurative use from c. 1600.
bead (n.) Look up bead at
mid-14c., bede "prayer bead," from Old English gebed "prayer," with intensive or collective prefix *ge- + Proto-Germanic *bidam "entreaty" (source also of Middle Dutch bede, Old High German beta, German bitte, Gothic bida "prayer, request"), from PIE *gwhedh- "to ask, pray."

Shift in meaning came via rosary beads threaded on a string to count prayers, and in verbal phrases bid one's beads, count one's beads, etc. German cognate Bitte is the usual word for conversational request "please." Compare Spanish cuentas "the beads of a rosary," from contar "to count."

The word is also related to bid (Old English biddan) and Gothic bidjan "to ask, pray." Sense in Modern English was transferred to other small globular bodies, such as "drop of liquid" (1590s), "small knob forming front sight of a gun" (1831, Kentucky slang); hence draw a bead on "take aim at," 1841, U.S. colloquial.
bead (v.) Look up bead at
1570s, "to adorn with beads," from bead (n.). Meaning "to string like beads" is from 1819. Intransitive sense "form in beads" is from 1873. Related: Beaded; beading.
beadle (n.) Look up beadle at
Old English bydel "herald, messenger from an authority, preacher," from Proto-Germanic *budilaz "herald" (source also of Dutch beul, Old High German butil, German Büttel "herald"), from PIE root *bheudh- "be aware, make aware."

Related to Old English beodan "to proclaim" (see bid (v.)). Sense of "warrant officer, tipstaff" was in late Old English; that of "petty parish officer," which has given the job a bad reputation, is from 1590s. French bédeau (Old French bedel, 12c.), Spanish bedel, Italian bidello are Germanic loan-words.
beadsman (n.) Look up beadsman at
"one who prays for another's benefit," early 13c.; see bead (n.) + man (n.). Often a resident of a hospital or almshouse who was expected to pray for the founders and benefactors. Related: Beadswoman.
beadwork (n.) Look up beadwork at
also bead-work, 1762, from bead (n.) + work (n.).
beady (adj.) Look up beady at
in reference to eyes, "small, round, and glittering," 1826, from bead (n.) + -y (2). Related: Beadily; beadiness.
beagle (n.) Look up beagle at
late 15c., begel, small type of hound formerly kept to hunt hares, of unknown origin, possibly from French becguele "noisy person," literally "gaping throat," from bayer "open wide" (see bay (n.2)) + gueule "mouth" (see gullet).
beak (n.) Look up beak at
mid-13c., "bird's bill," from Old French bec "beak," figuratively "mouth," also "tip or point of a nose, a lance, a ship, a shoe," from Late Latin beccus (source also of Italian becco, Spanish pico), by the Romans said to be of Gaulish origin, perhaps from Gaulish beccus, possibly related to Celtic stem *bacc- "hook." Or there may be a link in Old English becca "pickax, sharp end." Modern jocular sense of "human nose" is from 1854 (the word was used mid-15c. in the same sense).
beaker (n.) Look up beaker at
"open large-mouthed vessel," mid-14c., from Old Norse bikarr or Middle Dutch beker "goblet," probably (with Old Saxon bikeri, Old High German behhari, German Becher) from Medieval Latin bicarium, which is probably a diminutive of Greek bikos "earthenware jug, wine jar, vase with handles," also a measure, of uncertain origin. Sometimes said to be a Semitic word, perhaps a borrowing from Syrian buqa "a two-handed vase or jug," or from Egyptian b:k.t "oil flask." Form assimilated in English to beak. Originally a drinking vessel; the word is used from 1877 in reference to a similar glass vessel used in scientific laboratories.
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

[Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"]
beal (n.) Look up beal at
"mouth of a river or valley, opening between hills," 1818 (in Scott), from Gaelic beul "mouth."
beam (v.) Look up beam at
"emit rays of light," c. 1400, from beam (n.) in the "ray of light" sense. Sense of "shine radiantly" is from 1630s; that of "smile radiantly" is from 1804; that of "to direct radio transmissions" is from 1927. Related: Beamed; beaming.
beam (n.) Look up beam at
Old English beam originally "living tree," but by late 10c. also "rafter, post, ship's timber," from Proto-Germanic *baumaz "tree" (source also of Old Frisian bam "tree, gallows, beam," Middle Dutch boom, Old High German boum, German Baum "tree," and perhaps also (with unexplained sound changes) Old Norse baðmr, Gothic bagms), perhaps from PIE verbal root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow." The shift from *-au- to -ea- is regular in Old English.

Meaning "ray of light" developed in Old English, probably because beam was used by Bede to render Latin columna (lucis), the Biblical "pillar of fire." Meaning "directed flow of radiation" is from 1906. To be on the beam "going in the right direction" (1941) originally was an aviator's term for "to follow the course indicated by a radio beam." Nautical sense of "one of the horizontal transverse timbers holding a ship together" is from early 13c., hence "greatest breadth of a ship," and slang broad in the beam, by 1894 of ships, of persons, "wide-hipped," by 1938.
beamish (adj.) Look up beamish at
1530 (Palsgrave), from beam + -ish. Lewis Carroll may have thought he was inventing it in "Jabberwocky."
bean (n.) Look up bean at
Old English bean "bean, pea, legume," from Proto-Germanic *bauno (source also of Old Norse baun, Middle Dutch bone, Dutch boon, Old High German bona, German Bohne), and related to Latin faba "bean;" Greek phakos "lentil;" Albanian bathë "horse-bean;" Old Prussian babo, Russian bob "bean," but the original form is obscure. Watkins suggests a PIE reduplicated root *bha-bhā- "broad bean;" de Vaan writes that the Italic, Slavic and Germanic "are probably independent loanwords from a European substratum word of the form *bab- (or similar) 'bean'."

As a metaphor for "something of small value" it is attested from c. 1300 (hill of beans as something not much to amount to is from 1863). Meaning "head" is U.S. baseball slang 1905 (in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head"); thus slang verb bean meaning "to hit on the head," attested from 1910. Bean-shooter as a child's weapon for mischief, a sort of small sling-shot to fire beans, is attested from 1876. Slang bean-counter "accountant" recorded by 1971.

The notion of lucky or magic beans in English folklore is from the exotic beans or large seeds, carried from the Caribbean or South America by the Gulf Stream, that wash up occasionally in Cornwall and western Scotland. They were cherished, believed to ward off the evil eye and aid in childbirth.

To not know beans "be ignorant" is attested by 1842 in American English, often said to be a New England phrase; it is perhaps from the "object of little worth" sense. Some of the earliest citations give it in a fuller form, but they do not agree: "why, I sometimes think they don't know beans when the bag is open" ["The History of the Saints," 1842]; "This feller don't know beans from porridge, no how." ["Etchings of a Whaling Cruise," 1850]. It might have a connection to the English colloquial expression know how many beans make five (1824) "be a clever fellow."
bean bag (n.) Look up bean bag at
also bean-bag, "bag filled with beans," 1871 as an object in children's games, 1969 in reference to a type of chair. From bean (n.) + bag (n.).
bean-stalk (n.) Look up bean-stalk at
also beanstalk, "stem of a bean plant," 1800 (in the story of Jack and the giant), from bean (n.) + stalk (n.).
beanery (n.) Look up beanery at
"cheap restaurant," 1884, American English, from bean (n.) + -ery.
beanie (n.) Look up beanie at
"small, close-fitting hat," 1940, from bean (n.) in the slang sense of "head" + -ie.
beano (n.) Look up beano at
1888, colloquial shortening of beanfest "annual dinner given by employers for their workers" (1805); they had a reputation for rowdiness. From bean (n.) + fest (n.).
beanpole (n.) Look up beanpole at
also bean-pole, "stick for a bean plant to grow round," 1791, from bean (n.) + pole (n.1). As "very thin person," 1837.
bear (v.) Look up bear at
Old English beran "to carry, bring; bring forth, give birth to, produce; to endure without resistance; to support, hold up, sustain; to wear" (class IV strong verb; past tense bær, past participle boren), from Proto-Germanic *beran (source also of Old Saxon beran, Old Frisian bera, Old High German beran, German gebären, Old Norse bera, Gothic bairan "to carry, bear, give birth to"), from PIE root *bher- (1) "carry a burden, bring," also "give birth" (though only English and German strongly retain this sense, and Russian has beremennaya "pregnant").

Old English past tense bær became Middle English bare; alternative bore began to appear c. 1400, but bare remained the literary form till after 1600. Past participle distinction of borne for "carried" and born for "given birth" is from late 18c.

Many senses are from notion of "move onward by pressure." From c. 1300 as "possess as an attribute or characteristic." Meaning "sustain without sinking" is from 1520s; to bear (something) in mind is from 1530s; meaning "tend, be directed (in a certain way)" is from c. 1600. To bear down "proceed forcefully toward" (especially in nautical use) is from 1716. To bear up is from 1650s as "be firm, have fortitude."
bear (n.) Look up bear at
"large carnivorous or omnivorous mammal of the family Ursidae," Old English bera "a bear," from Proto-Germanic *bero, literally "the brown (one)" (source also of Old Norse björn, Middle Dutch bere, Dutch beer, Old High German bero, German Bär), usually said to be from PIE root *bher- (2) "bright; brown." There was perhaps a PIE *bheros "dark animal" (compare beaver (n.1) and Greek phrynos "toad," literally "the brown animal").

Greek arktos and Latin ursus retain the PIE root word for "bear" (*rtko; see Arctic), but it is believed to have been ritually replaced in the northern branches because of hunters' taboo on names of wild animals (compare the Irish equivalent "the good calf," Welsh "honey-pig," Lithuanian "the licker," Russian medved "honey-eater"). Others connect the Germanic word with Latin ferus "wild," as if it meant "the wild animal (par excellence) of the northern woods."

Symbolic of Russia since 1794. Used of rude, gruff, uncouth men since 1570s. Stock market meaning "speculator for a fall" is 1709 shortening of bearskin jobber (from the proverb sell the bearskin before one has caught the bear); i.e. "one who sells stock for future delivery, expecting that meanwhile prices will fall." Paired with bull from c. 1720. Bear claw as a type of large pastry is from 1942, originally chiefly western U.S. Bear-garden (1590s) was a place where bears were kept for the amusement of spectators.
bear-baiting (n.) Look up bear-baiting at
late 15c., from bear (n.) + baiting.
bear-hug (n.) Look up bear-hug at
also bearhug, 1876, from bear (n.) + hug (n.).
bearable (adj.) Look up bearable at
"endurable," mid-15c., from bear (v.) + -able. Related: Bearably.
beard (n.) Look up beard at
"close growth of hair on the chin and lower face, normally characteristic of an adult male" (that of the upper lip being distinguished in Modern English as the mustache), Old English beard "beard," from West Germanic *barthaz (source also of Old Frisian berd, Middle Dutch baert, Old High German bart, German bart), seemingly from PIE root *bhardhā- "beard" (source also of Old Church Slavonic brada, Russia boroda, Lithuanian barzda, Old Prussian bordus, and perhaps Latin barba "beard"). Old French berd is from Germanic.
The Greek and Roman Churches have long disputed about the beard. While the Romanists have at different times practised shaving, the Greeks, on the contrary, have strenuously defended the cause of long beards. Leo III. (795 AD) was the first shaved Pope. Pope Gregory IV., after the lapse of only 30 years, fulminated a Bull against bearded priests. In the 12th century the prescription of the beard was extended to the laity. Pope Honorius III. to disguise his disfigured lip, allowed his beard to grow. Henry I. of England was so much moved by a sermon directed against his beard that he resigned it to the barber. Frederick Barbarossa is said to have been equally tractable. [Tom Robinson, M.D., "Beards," "St. James's Magazine," 1881]
Pubic hair sense is from 1600s (but neþir berd "pubic hair" is from late 14c.); in the 1811 "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," the phrase beard-splitter is defined as, "A man much given to wenching" (compare beaver in the slang genital sense).
beard (v.) Look up beard at
c. 1300, "to grow or have a beard," from beard (n.). The sense of "confront boldly and directly" is from Middle English phrases such as rennen in berd "oppose openly" (c. 1200), reproven in the berd "to rebuke directly and personally" (c. 1400), on the same notion as modern slang get in (someone's) face. Related: Bearded (Old English); bearding.
beardless (adj.) Look up beardless at
Old English beardleas "without a beard; youthful" (of males); see beard (n.) + -less.
bearer (n.) Look up bearer at
"one who carries or sustains" in any sense, Old English -berere (in water-berere), agent noun from bear (v.). Meaning "one who helps carry a corpse to the grave" is from 1630s. The usual Old English form was berend.
bearing (n.) Look up bearing at
mid-13c., "a carrying of oneself, deportment," verbal noun from bear (v.). Meaning "direction or point of the compass in which an object is seen or is moving" is from 1630s; to take (one's) bearings is from 1711. Mechanical sense of "part of a machine that 'bears' the friction" is from 1791.
bearish (adj.) Look up bearish at
"grumpy, surly, uncouth," 1744, from bear (n.) + -ish. Related: Bearishly; bearishness.
Bearnaise (n.) Look up Bearnaise at
"egg-and-butter sauce," 1877, from French sauce béarnaise, from fem. of béarnais "of Béarn," region in southwest France (named for the Benarni, a Gaulish tribe).
bearskin (n.) Look up bearskin at
also bear-skin, "the skin of a bear," Old English berascin; see bear (n.) + skin (n.).
beast (n.) Look up beast at
c. 1200, beste, "one of the lower animals" (opposed to man), especially "a four-footed animal," also "a marvelous creature, a monster" (mermaids, werewolves, lamia, satyrs, the beast of the Apocalypse), "a brutish or stupid man," from Old French beste "animal, wild beast," figuratively "fool, idiot" (11c., Modern French bête), from Vulgar Latin *besta, from Latin bestia "beast, wild animal," which is of unknown origin.

Used in Middle English to translate Latin animal. Replaced Old English deor (see deer) as the generic word for "wild creature," only to be ousted 16c. by animal.
beastly (adj.) Look up beastly at
c. 1200, "brutish, sensual, debased;" late 14c., "in the manner of a beast," from beast + -ly (1). Weakened in British upper crust use to "awfully, exceedingly" by mid-19c. Beastly drunk is from 1794.
Beastly expresses that which is altogether unworthy of a man, especially that which is filthy and disgusting in conduct or manner of life. Bestial is applied chiefly to that which is carnal, sensual, lascivious: as, bestial vices or appetites. [Century Dictionary]
beat (n.) Look up beat at
c. 1300, "a beating, whipping; the beating of a drum," from beat (v.). As "throb of the heart" from 1755. Meaning "regular route travelled by someone" is attested from 1731, also "a track made by animals" (1736), from the sense of the "beat" of the feet on the ground (late Old English), or perhaps that in beat the bushes to flush game (c. 1400), or beat the bounds (1560s). Extended to journalism by 1875. Musical sense is by 1842, perhaps from the hand motion of the conductor and the notion of "beating the time":
It is usual, in beating the time of a piece of music, to mark or signalize the commencement of every measure by a downward movement or beat of the hand, or of any other article that may be used for the purpose .... ["Godfrey Weber's General Music Teacher," 1842]
Earlier in music it meant a sort of grace note:
BEAT, in music, a transient grace note, struck immediately before the note it is intended to ornament. The beat always lies half a note beneath its principal, and should be heard so closely upon it, that they may almost seem to be struck together. ["The British Encyclopedia," London, 1809]
beat (adj.) Look up beat at
"defeated, overcome by effort," c. 1400, from past tense of beat (v.). Meaning "tired, exhausted by exertion," is by 1905, American English. For beat generation see beatnik.
beat (v.) Look up beat at
Old English beatan "inflict blows on, strike repeatedly, thrash" (class VII strong verb; past tense beot, past participle beaten), from Proto-Germanic *bautan (source also of Old Norse bauta, Old High German bozan "to beat"), from PIE root *bhau- "to strike."

Past tense beat is from c. 1500, probably not from Old English but a shortening of Middle English beted. Of the heart, c. 1200, from notion of it striking against the breast. Meaning "to overcome in a contest" is from 1610s (hence the sense of "legally avoid, escape" in beat the charges, etc., attested from c. 1920 in underworld slang). Meaning "be too difficult for" intellectually or physically (by 1870) is behind the shrug-phrase beats me.

Meaning "strike cover to rouse or drive game" (c. 1400) is source of beat around (or about) the bush (1570s), the metaphoric sense of which has shifted from "make preliminary motions" to "avoid, evade." Nautical sense of "make progress against the wind by means of alternate tacks" is from 1670s. Command beat it "go away" first recorded 1906 (though "action of feet upon the ground" was a sense of Old English betan); it is attested in 1903 as newsboy slang for "travel without paying by riding on the outside of a train."
beat off (v.) Look up beat off at
"drive (something) away by violent blows," 1640s, from beat (v.) + off (adv.). Meaning "masturbate" is recorded by 1960s.
beat up (v.) Look up beat up at
"thrash, strike repeatedly," c. 1900 (v.), from beat (v.) + up (adv.). Earlier it meant "summon (recruits, etc.) by the beating of a drum" (1690s). Beat-up as an adjectival phrase meaning "worn-out" dates to 1946.
beatable (adj.) Look up beatable at
1610s, from beat (v.) + -able.
beatdown (n.) Look up beatdown at
"a thorough beating, a thrashing," by 1997 in urban slang, from verbal phrase (attested from c. 1400); see beat (v.) + down (adv.).
beaten (adj.) Look up beaten at
"hammered, wrought upon by beating" (of metal, etc.), c. 1300, from alternative past participle of beat (v.). Meaning "defeated, vanquished" is from 1560s; that of "repeatedly struck" is from 1590s.
beater (n.) Look up beater at
mid-14c., "an implement for beating;" mid-15c., "a person who punishes" (c. 1200 as a surname); agent noun from beat (v.). Old English had beatere "boxer." Of various mechanical devices that "beat" in some sense from early 17c. Meaning "one who rouses game" is from 1825. Slang meaning "old car" is from c. 1980.
beatific (adj.) Look up beatific at
"blissful, imparting bliss," 1630s, from French béatifique or directly from Late Latin beatificus, from Latin beatus "blessed, happy," past participle of beare "make happy, bless" (see Beatrice) + -ficus "making doing," from combining form of facere "to do, to make" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put"). Related: Beatifical (c. 1600); beatifically.
beatification (n.) Look up beatification at
c. 1500, "act of rendering blessed," from Middle French béatification, noun of action and state from past participle stem of Late Latin beatificare "make happy" (see beatify). As a papal declaration about the status of a deceased person and entitlement of public religious honor, it dates from c. 1600.
beatify (v.) Look up beatify at
1530s, "to make very happy," from Middle French béatifer, from Late Latin beatificare "make happy, make blessed," from Latin beatus "supremely happy, blessed" (past participle of beare "make happy, bless;" see Beatrice) + -ficare, combining form of facere "to make" (from PIE root *dhe- "to set, put"). The Roman Catholic Church sense of "to pronounce as being in heavenly bliss" (1620s) is the first step toward canonization. Related: Beatified; beatifying.