backward (adv.) Look up backward at
"with the face to the rear, in the direction behind," c. 1300, from abakward, from Old English on bæc (see back (adv.), and compare aback) + -weard adjectival and adverbial suffix (see -ward).

Old English had the adverb bæcling. As an adjective, from 1550s. Meaning "behindhand with regard to progress" is first attested 1690s. To ring bells backward (from lowest to highest), c. 1500, was a signal of alarm for fire or invasion, or to express dismay. Another Middle English word for "backward, wrongly" was arseward (c. 1400); Old English had earsling.
backwardness (n.) Look up backwardness at
1580s, from backward + -ness.
backwards (adv.) Look up backwards at
1510s, from backward with adverbial genitive -s. Figurative phrase bend over backwards is recorded from 1901.
backwash (n.) Look up backwash at
1876, "motion of a receding wave;" see back (adv.) + wash (v.).
backwater (n.) Look up backwater at
also back-water, late 14c., "water behind a dam," from back (adj.) + water (n.1). Hence flat water without a current near a flowing river, as in a mill race (1820); figurative use of this for any flat, dull place is from 1879.
backwoods (n.) Look up backwoods at
"wooded or partially uncleared and unsettled districts in remote regions," 1709, North American English; see back (adj.) + wood (n.) in the sense "forested tract." As an adjective, from 1784.
BACKWOODSMEN. ... This word is commonly used as a term of reproach (and that, only in a familiar style,) to designate those people, who, being at a distance from the sea and entirely agricultural, are considered as either hostile or indifferent to the interests of the commercial states. [John Pickering, "A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases Which Have Been Supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America," Boston, 1816]
backyard (n.) Look up backyard at
also back-yard, "plot of ground at the rear of a house," 1650s (perhaps early 15c.), from back (adj.) + yard (n.1).
bacon (n.) Look up bacon at
early 14c., "meat from the back and sides of a hog" (originally either fresh or cured, but especially cured), from Old French bacon, from Proto-Germanic *bakkon "back meat" (source also of Old High German bahho, Old Dutch baken "bacon"). Slang phrase bring home the bacon first recorded 1908; bacon formerly being the staple meat of the working class and the rural population (in Shakespeare bacon is a derisive term for "a rustic").
bacteria (n.) Look up bacteria at
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 (1795-1876). 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."
bacterial (adj.) Look up bacterial at
"of or pertaining to bacteria," 1869, from bacteria + -al (1).
bacteriology (n.) Look up bacteriology at
"scientific study of microbes," 1884, from German; see bacteria + -ology. Related: Bacteriological (1886); bacteriologist. Bacteriological warfare is from 1924.
bacteriophage (n.) Look up bacteriophage at
1921, from French bactériophage (1917), from bacterio-, combining form of bacteria, + -phage.
bacterium (n.) Look up bacterium at
c. 1848, singular of bacteria (q.v.).
Bactrian Look up Bactrian at
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."
bad (adj.) Look up bad at
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.* Possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its diminutive bædling "effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast," which probably are related to bædan "to defile."
The orig. word, AS. bæddel, ME. baddel, on account of its sinister import, is scarcely found in literature, but, like other words of similar sense, it prob. flourished in vulgar speech as an indefinite term of abuse, and at length, divested of its original meaning, emerged in literary use as a mere adj., badde, equiv. to the older evil. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
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").

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).

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, but in the U.S. West bad man also had a certain ambivalence:
These are the men who do most of the killing in frontier communities, yet it is a noteworthy fact that the men who are killed generally deserve their fate. [Farmer & Henley]
*Farsi 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 (Farsi 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."
bad (n.) Look up bad at
late 14c., "evil, wickedness," from bad (adj.).
bad-ass (n.) Look up bad-ass at
also badass, "tough guy," 1950s U.S. slang, from bad (adj.) + ass (n.2).
bad-mouth (v.) Look up bad-mouth at
"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.
badder (adj.) Look up badder at
obsolete or colloquial comparative of bad (adj.), common 14c.-18c.
baddest (adj.) Look up baddest at
obsolete or colloquial superlative of bad (adj.), common 14c.-18c.
baddish (adj.) Look up baddish at
"rather bad," 1755, from bad (adj.) + -ish.
baddy (n.) Look up baddy at
"bad man, criminal, disreputable person," 1937, from bad (adj.) + -y (3).
bade Look up bade at
Old English bæd, past tense of bid (v.).
badge (n.) Look up badge at
"token worn to indicate the wearer's occupation, preference, etc.," especially "device worn by servants or followers to indicate their allegiance," from Anglo-French bage (mid-14c.) or Anglo-Latin bagis, plural of bagia "emblem," all of unknown origin. Figurative sense "mark or token" of anything is by 1520s.
badger (n.) Look up badger at
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.

Old English names for the creature were the Celtic borrowing brock; also græg (Middle English grei, grey). In American English, the nickname of inhabitants or natives of Wisconsin (1833).
badger (v.) Look up badger at
"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.
A badger is put into a barrel, and one or more dogs are put in to drag him out. When this is effected he is returned to his barrel, to be similarly assailed by a fresh set of dogs. The badger usually makes a most determined and savage resistance. [Century Dictionary]
badinage (n.) Look up badinage at
"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.
badlands (n.) Look up badlands at
"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).
badly (adv.) Look up badly at
c. 1300, "unluckily;" late 14c., "wickedly, evilly; poorly, inadequately," from bad (adj.) + -ly (2). By 1814 as "incorrectly;" meaning "very much" is by 1849, American English.
badminton (n.) Look up badminton at
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."
badness (n.) Look up badness at
"state of being evil, wrong, improper, deficient in quality, etc.," late 14c., baddenesse; see bad (adj.) + -ness.
Baedeker (n.) Look up Baedeker at
"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.
baffle (v.) Look up baffle at
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. Meaning "defeat someone's efforts, frustrate by interposing obstacles or difficulties" is from 1670s. Related: Baffled; baffling.
baffle (n.) Look up baffle at
"shielding device," especially in a stove or oven, 1881 (short for baffle-plate), from baffle (v.). Earlier in the same sense was baffler (1861).
bafflement (n.) Look up bafflement at
"state of being baffled," 1841, from baffle (v.) + -ment.
baffling (adj.) Look up baffling at
"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.
bag (n.) Look up bag at
"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.

As disparaging slang for "woman" it dates from 1924 in modern use (but various specialized senses of this are much older, and compare baggage). Meaning "person's area of interest or expertise" is 1964, from African-American vernacular, from jazz sense of "category," probably via notion of putting something in a bag. Meaning "fold of loose skin under the eye" is by 1867. Related: bags. To be left holding the bag (and presumably nothing else), "cheated, swindled" is attested by 1793. 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 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.) 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.
Sir Joseph letteth the cat out of the bag, and sheweth principles inimical to the cause of true philosophy, by wishing to make great men Fellows, instead of wise men ["Peter Pindar," "Peter's Prophecy," 1788]
bag (v.) Look up bag at
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.
bag-end (n.) Look up bag-end at
"bottom of a bag," c. 1400, from bag (n.) + end (n.).
bagatelle (n.) Look up bagatelle at
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.
bagel (n.) Look up bagel at
"ring-shaped hard bread roll," 1919, 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.
bagful (n.) Look up bagful at
"as much as a bag will hold," c. 1300, bagge-ful, from bag (n.) + -ful.
baggage (n.) Look up baggage at
mid-15c., "portable equipment of an army; plunder, loot," from Old French bagage "baggage, (military) equipment" (14c.), from bague "pack, bundle, sack," 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."

Used disparagingly, "worthless woman, strumpet" from 1590s; sometimes also playfully, "saucy or flirtatious woman" (1670s).
bagger (n.) Look up bagger at
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.
baggy (adj.) Look up baggy at
"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.
Baghdad Look up Baghdad at
a pre-Islamic name apparently of Indo-European origin and probably meaning "gift of god," with the first element related to Russian bog "god" and the second to English donor. Marco Polo (13c.) wrote it Baudac.
bagpipes (n.) Look up bagpipes at
"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.).
baguette (n.) Look up baguette at
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). Meaning "a diamond cut long" is from 1926; that of "a long, thin loaf of French bread" is from 1958.
bah (interj.) Look up bah at
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.
Twenty five years ago the vile ejaculation "Bah!" was utterly unknown to the English public. Now, and entirely through the currency given to it by our own novels, it has become the most popular expression for dismissing with contempt any opinion or suggestion of the person with whom you are conversing. Sir Edward Lytton was amongst the earliest and deepest offenders. ["French and English Manners," 1850]
Baha'i (n.) Look up Baha'i at
1889, Beha'i, mystical, tolerant Iranian religion founded by a Mirza Ali Mohammed ibn Radhik, 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."