biting (adj.) Look up biting at
c. 1300, present-participle adjective from bite (v.). Sense of "severe, sharp, painful" is from mid-14c.; that of "sarcastic, painful to the mind or feelings" is from late 14c. Related: Bitingly.
bitmap (n.) Look up bitmap at
1973, in computer jargon, from bit (n.2) + map. Literally, a map of bits.
bitsy (adj.) Look up bitsy at
1883, from plural of bit (n.1) or a variant of bitty.
bitt (n.) Look up bitt at
nautical, "strong post to which cables are made fast" (usually in plural, bitts), 1590s, of uncertain origin; compare Old Norse biti "crossbeam." Probably somehow related to bit (n.1).
bitten Look up bitten at
past participle of bite.
bitter (adj.) Look up bitter at
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.
bitter end (n.) Look up bitter end at
In lexicons of sea language going back to 1759, the bitter end is 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).
Bitter end of the Cable, the End which is wound about the Bitts. ["The News-Readers Pocket-Book: Or, a Military Dictionary," London, 1759]
So, when a cable is played out to the bitter end, there is no more left to play. The term began to be used c. 1835 in non-nautical use and with probable influence of or merger with bitter (adj.).
bittern (n.) Look up bittern at
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. Modern form from 1510s.
bitterness (n.) Look up bitterness at
Old English biternys "bitterness, grief;" see bitter + -ness. Figurative sense (of feelings, etc.) is attested earlier than literal sense (of taste), which will surprise no one who reads any amount of Anglo-Saxon literature.
bitters (n.) Look up bitters at
bitter-tasting medicines generally, 1713, from bitter. Especially a liquor in which bitter herbs or roots are steeped, used medicinally.
bittersweet (adj.) Look up bittersweet at
"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."
BitTorrent Look up BitTorrent at
peer-to-peer file sharing protocol, implemented in 2001, from bit (n.2) in the computing sense + torrent.
bitty (adj.) Look up bitty at
"small," 1873, baby-talk, from bit (n.1) + -y (2).
bitumen (n.) Look up bitumen at
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.
bituminous (adj.) Look up bituminous at
"of the nature of or resembling asphalt," 1610s, from French bitumineux, from Latin bituminosus, from bitumen (see bitumen).
The Plain, wherein a black bituminous gurge Boiles out from under ground, the mouth of Hell. ["Paradise Lost," XII.41]
bivalence (n.) Look up bivalence at
"state or quality of being bivalent," 1868; see bivalent + -ence. Bivalency is from 1872. Divalence is said to be the preferred later word.
bivalent (adj.) Look up bivalent at
1864, of chemicals, 1899, of chromosomes, from bi- + -valent (see valence in the chemistry sense).
bivalve (adj.) Look up bivalve at
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 1680s in the mollusk sense.
bivariate (adj.) Look up bivariate at
also bi-variate, "involving two variables," 1906, from bi- + -variate, from Latin variatio (see variation).
bivious (adj.) Look up bivious at
"having two ways or paths," 1640s, from Latin bivius, from bi- "two" (see bi-) + via "path, way" (see via).
bivouac (n.) Look up bivouac at
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"). 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;" meaning "camp out-of-doors without tents" is from 1814.
biz (n.) Look up biz at
1862, American English, colloquial and phonetic shortening of business.
bizarre (adj.) Look up bizarre at
"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. Older derivation from Basque bizar "a beard" is no longer considered tenable.
bize Look up bize at
obsolete form of bice.
blab (v.) Look up blab at
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 is probably echoic. Related: Blabbed; blabbing. From c. 1600 as "to talk indiscreetly."

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.), said to be from continental Low Germanic; hence also labster (Middle English labestere, late 13c.) "female gossip, a scold."
blabber (v.) Look up blabber at
mid-14c., "to speak as an infant speaks," frequentative of blabben, of echoic origin (compare Old Norse blabbra, Danish blabbre "babble," German plappern "to babble"). Meaning "to talk excessively" is from late 14c. Related: Blabbered; blabbering.
blabbermouth (n.) Look up blabbermouth at
also blabber-mouth, 1931, from blabber + mouth (n.).
black (n.) Look up black at
Old English blæc "the color black," also "ink," from noun use of black (adj.). 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). Meaning "black clothing" (especially when worn in mourning) is from c. 1400.

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 1885 of sketches, 1890 of photographs. To be in the black (1922) is from the accounting practice of recording credits and balances in black ink.
For years it has been a common practice to use red ink instead of black in showing a loss or deficit on corporate books, but not until the heavy losses of 1921 did the contrast in colors come to have a widely understood meaning. ["Saturday Evening Post," July 22, 1922]
black (v.) Look up black at
c. 1200, intrans., "to become black;" early 14c., trans., "to make black, darken, put a black color on;" from black (adj.). Especially "to clean and polish (boots, shoes, etc.) by blacking and brushing them" (1550s). Related: Blacked; blacking.
black (adj.) Look up black at
Old English blæc "absolutely dark, absorbing all light, 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 same root produced Old English blac "bright, shining, glittering, pale;" the connecting notions being, perhaps, "fire" (bright) and "burned" (dark). The usual Old English word for "black" was sweart (see swart). According to OED: "In ME. it is often doubtful whether blac, blak, blake, means 'black, dark,' or 'pale, colourless, wan, livid.' " Used of dark-skinned people in Old English.

Of coffee with nothing added, attested by 1796. Black drop (1823) was a liquid preparation of opium, used medicinally. Black-fly (c. 1600) was used of 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.

Meaning "fierce, terrible, wicked" is from late 14c. 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). Black flag, flown (especially by pirates) as a signal of "no mercy," is from 1590s. Black dog "melancholy" attested from 1826.

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.
black box (n.) Look up black box at
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.
black code (n.) Look up black code at
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.
black comedy (n.) Look up black comedy at
1961, "comedy that deals in themes and subjects usually regarded as serious or taboo," from black (adj.) in a figurative sense of "morbid;" compare French pièce noire (perhaps the inspiration for the English term) and 19th-century gallows-humor. In a racial sense, from 1921.
Black Death (n.) Look up Black Death at
"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 name for it in most languages was something like "the great dying" or simply "the plague" (or, looking back after its return, "the first pestilence"). The term "Black Death" first turns up in 16c. Swedish and Danish chronicles, but in reference to a visitation of plague in Iceland (which had been spared in the earlier outbreak) 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 taken from there into English in that sense.
black eye (n.) Look up black eye at
"discoloration around the eye from injury" c. 1600, from black (adj.) + eye (n.). Figurative sense of "injury to pride, rebuff" is by 1744; that of "bad reputation" is from 1880s.

In reference to dark eyes, often as a mark of beauty, from 1660s. Black-eyed is from 1590s of women, of peas from 1728. The black-eyed Susan as a flower (various species) so called from 1881, for its 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.
All in the Downs the fleet was moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard,
"Oh! where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William sails among the crew?"
black friar (n.) Look up black friar at
"friar of the Dominican order," c. 1500, so called from the color of their dress.
Black Hand (n.) Look up Black Hand at
Italian immigrant secret society in U.S., 1904; earlier a Spanish anarchist society, both from the warning mark they displayed to potential victims.
Black Hills Look up Black Hills at
South Dakota landform, translating Lakhota pahá-sapa; supposedly so called because their densely forested flanks look dark from a distance.
black hole (n.) Look up black hole at
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 Ft. William, Calcutta, were held overnight in a punishment cell of the barracks (meant to hold 4 people) and all but 23 perished.
black market (n.) Look up black market at
"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. It exploded in popularity with the coming of World War II rationing.
Black Sea Look up Black Sea at
see Euxine.
black sheep (n.) Look up black sheep at
by 1822 in figurative sense of "member of some group guilty of offensive conduct and unlike the other members," supposedly because a real black sheep had wool that could not be dyed and thus was worth less. But one black sheep in a flock was considered good luck by shepherds in Sussex, Somerset, Kent, Derbyshire. First known publication of Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme is in "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book" (c. 1744).
Black Shirt (n.) Look up Black Shirt at
also blackshirt, 1922, member of Fasci di Combattimento, Italian paramilitary unit founded 1919 by Mussolini; so called for their uniforms.
black swan (n.) Look up black swan at
proverbial for "something extremely rare or non-existent" (late 14c.) is from Juvenal ["Sat." vi. 164], but the real thing turned up in Australia (Chenopsis atratus).
"Do you say no worthy wife is to be found among all these crowds?" Well, let her be handsome, charming, rich and fertile; let her have ancient ancestors ranged about her halls; let her be more chaste than all the dishevelled Sabine maidens who stopped the war--a prodigy as rare upon the earth as a black swan! yet who could endure a wife that possessed all perfections? I would rather have a Venusian wench for my wife than you, O Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, if, with all your virtues, you bring me a haughty brow, and reckon up Triumphs as part of your marriage portion. [Juvenal]
Blue dahlia also was used 19c. for "something rare and unheard of."
black widow (n.) Look up black widow at
type of poisonous 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 (they are cannibalistic, but this particular behavior is rare in the wild). 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.
black-hearted (adj.) Look up black-hearted at
"having a cruel or malicious heart," 1792, from black (adj.) + -hearted. Greek had the same image in melanokardios. Related: black-heartedly.
black-letter (n., adj.) Look up black-letter at
name for old-style "Gothic" fonts, 1640s, from black (adj.); so called to distinguish heavy, old-style printers' types from the ones coming into use then, which are the dominant modern forms, though a style of black letter was preserved in German into 20c.
black-light (n.) Look up black-light at
"light rays beyond the visible spectrum," 1927, from black (adj.) + light (n.).
black-tie (n.) Look up black-tie at
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.
blackamoor (n.) Look up blackamoor at
"dark-skinned person, black-skinned African," 1540s, from black (adj.) + Moor, with connecting element.