blackball (v.) Look up blackball at
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.
blackberry (n.) Look up blackberry at
"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. Related: Blackberrying.
blackbird (n.) Look up blackbird at
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 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.
blackboard (n.) Look up blackboard at
"board painted black and written on in chalk," especially as used in schoolrooms, 1823, from black + board (n.1). Blackboard jungle "inner-city school rife with juvenile delinquency" is from Evan Hunter's novel title (1954).
blacken (v.) Look up blacken at
c. 1200, "become black or dark;" early 14c., "make black, darken, dye (hair);" see black (adj.) + -en (1). Figurative sense of "to besmirch" (with dishonor, etc.) is from early 15c. Related: Blackened; blackening.
blackface Look up blackface at
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.
The old-time black face song-and-dance man has disappeared from the stage. At one time no minstrel or variety company was complete without a team of these stage favorites; and who can ever forget their reception at every performance? It made no difference whether they represented the genteel or the plantation negro, they were always welcome, and as a rule were the big feature of the bill. [William E. "Judge" Horton, "About Stage Folks," 1902]
blackguard (n.) Look up blackguard at
1530s, "scullion, kitchen knave," of uncertain origin. Perhaps in reference to military units or attendans so called for the color of their dress or their character; more likely originally a mock-military reference to scullions and kitchen-knaves of noble households, of black-liveried personal guards, and of shoeblacks. See black (adj.) + guard (n.). By 1736, 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."
blackhead (n.) Look up blackhead at
"comedo," 1837, from black (adj.) + head (n.). So called for its appearance.
blackie (n.) Look up blackie at
also blacky, "a black person," 1815, from black (adj.) + -y (3).
blacking (n.) Look up blacking at
1570s, "thing which makes (something else) black;" c. 1600, "action of making black," verbal noun from black (v.).
blackish (adj.) Look up blackish at
"somewhat black, moderately dark," mid-15c., from black (adj.) + -ish.
blackjack (n.) Look up blackjack at
used in various senses since 16c., earliest is possibly "tar-coated leather jug for beer" (1590s), from black (adj.) + jack in any of its many slang meanings. From 1867 as "pirate flag." The hand-weapon so called from 1889; the card game by 1900.
blackleg (n.) Look up blackleg at
"swindler," originally especially in equestrian events, 1771, from black (adj.) + leg (n.), but the exact signification is uncertain.
The term implies the habitual frequenting of places where wagers are made and games of chance are played, and the seeking of subsistence by dishonorable betting, but does not always imply direct cheating. Sometimes contracted to leg. [Century Dictionary]
Used from 1865 of strike-breakers and workmen who refused to join trade unions.
blacklist (n.) Look up blacklist at
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) is from 1884. As a verb, from 1718. Related: Blacklisted; blacklisting.
blackly (adv.) Look up blackly at
"with a black or dark appearance," 1560s, from black (adj.) + -ly (2).
blackmail (v.) Look up blackmail at
"to extort money or goods from by intimidation or threat," especially of exposure of some wrong-doing, 1852, from blackmail (n.). Related: Blackmailed; blackmailing.
blackmail (n.) Look up blackmail at
1550s, "tribute paid to men allied with criminals as protection against pillage, etc.," from black (adj.) + Middle English male "rent, tribute," 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.)).

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."
blackness (n.) Look up blackness at
late 14c., from black (adj.) + -ness.
blackout (n.) Look up blackout at
also black-out, 1908 in the theatrical sense of a darkened stage, from black (v.) + out (adv.). Figurative sense of "loss of memory" is 1934 (verb and noun); as "a dousing of lights as an air raid precaution," it is recorded from 1935. Verbal phrase black out, in reference to printed or written matter deemed objectionable and covered in black ink, is attested from 1888.
blacksmith (n.) Look up blacksmith at
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).
blacktop (n.) Look up blacktop at
road resurfacing material, 1931, American English, from black (adj.) + top (n.1).
bladder (n.) Look up bladder at
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), from PIE root *bhle- "to blow." Extended senses from early 13c. from animal bladders used for buoyancy, storage, etc.
blade (n.) Look up blade at
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."

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 might have been the original distinction in Old English, too. Compare leaf (n.). 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.
blah (n.) Look up blah at
"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.
blain (n.) Look up blain at
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."
Blaise Look up Blaise at
masc. proper name, from Saint Blaise (Greek Blasios), early 4c. bishop and martyr in Armenia; the saint's name is of uncertain origin.
blame (v.) Look up blame at
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.
blame (n.) Look up blame at
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.)).
blamed (adv.) Look up blamed at
"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].
This adjective 'blamed' is the virtuous oath by which simple people, who are improving their habits, cure themselves of a stronger epithet. [Edward Everett Hale, "If, Yes, and Perhaps," 1868]
Compare also blamenation (1837) as an expletive. The imprecation blame me is attested from 1830.
blameless (adj.) Look up blameless at
"not meriting disapprobation or censure, without fault," late 14c., from blame (n.) + -less. Related: Blamelessly; blamelessness. Seldom-used blameful is recorded from late 14c.
blameworthy (adj.) Look up blameworthy at
also blame-worthy, "deserving blame," late 14c., from blame (n.) + worthy (adj.). Related: Blameworthiness.
blanch (v.1) Look up blanch at
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.
blanch (v.2) Look up blanch at
"to start back, shrink, turn aside," 1570s, variant of blench (q.v.). Related: Blanched; blanching.
Blanche Look up Blanche at
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.
blancmange (n.) Look up blancmange at
"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].
bland (adj.) Look up bland at
"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.
blandiloquence (n.) Look up blandiloquence at
"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 also had blandiloquentulus "flattering in speech."
blandish (v.) Look up blandish at
mid-14c., "to flatter," from Old French blandiss-, present participle stem of blandir "to flatter, caress," from Latin blandiri "flatter, soothe, caress, coax," from blandus "smooth-talking, flattering, alluring," perhaps from PIE root *mel- (1) "soft." OED reports it rare in 17c., 18c., and Johnson says he knows it only from Milton. Related: Blandished; blandishing.
blandishment (n.) Look up blandishment at
"flattering speech," 1590s, from blandish + -ment. Sense of "that which pleases, allurement" (often blandishments) is from 1590s.
blank (n.) Look up blank at
late 14c. as the name of a small French coin; 1550s as "white space in the center of a target," from the same source as blank (adj.). Meaning "empty space" (in a document, etc.) is from c. 1570. Meaning "losing lottery ticket" (1560s) is behind the expression draw a blank. The word has been "for decorum's sake, substituted for a word of execration" [OED] since at least 1854 (for compound words, blankety-blank), from the use of blank lines in printing to indicate where such words or the letters forming the bulk of them have been omitted. From 1896 as short for blank cartridge (itself from 1826).
blank (v.) Look up blank at
1540s, "to nonplus, disconcert, shut up;" 1560s, "to frustrate," from blank (adj.) in some sense. Sports sense of "defeat (another team) without allowing a score" is from 1870 (blank (n.) as "a score of 0 in a game or contest" is from 1867). Meaning "to become blank or empty" is from 1955. Related: Blanked; blanking.
blank (adj.) Look up blank at
early 13c., "white, pale, colorless," from Old French blanc "white, shining," from Frankish *blank "white, gleaming," or some other Germanic source (compare Old Norse blakkr, Old English blanca "white horse;" Old High German blanc, blanch; German blank "shining, bright"), from Proto-Germanic *blangkaz "to shine, dazzle," extended form of PIE root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn," also "shining white."

Meaning "having empty spaces" evolved c. 1400. Sense of "void of expression" (a blank look) is from 1550s. Spanish blanco, Italian bianco are said to be from Germanic. Related: Blankly, blankness.
blank verse (n.) Look up blank verse at
"unrhymed pentameter," commonly used in English dramatic and epic poetry, 1580s; the thing itself is attested in English poetry from mid-16c. and is classical in origin.
blanket (v.) Look up blanket at
c. 1600, "to cover with or as with a blanket;" also "to toss in a blanket" (as punishment), from blanket (n.). Related: Blanketed; blanketing.
blanket (n.) Look up blanket at
c. 1300, "coarse white woolen stuff," also "a large oblong piece of woolen cloth used for warmth as a bed-covering" (also as a cover for horses), from Old French blanchet "light wool or flannel cloth; an article made of this material," diminutive of blanc "white" (see blank (adj.)), which had a secondary sense of "a white cloth."

As an adjective, "providing for a number of contingencies," 1886 (blanket-clause in a contract). Wet blanket (1830) is from the notion of a person who throws a damper on social situations in the way a wet blanket smothers a fire. In U.S. history, a blanket Indian (1859) was one using the traditional garment instead of wearing Western dress.
Only 26,000 blanket Indians are left in the United States. ["Atlantic Monthly," March 1906]
blankly (adv.) Look up blankly at
1823, from blank (adj.) + -ly (2).
blare (v.) Look up blare at
late 14c., bleren "to wail," possibly from an unrecorded Old English *blæren, or from Middle Dutch bleren "to bleat, cry, bawl, shout." Either way probably echoic. Related: Blared; blaring. As a noun from 1809, from the verb.
blaring (adj.) Look up blaring at
mid-15c., from present participle of blare. Of qualities other than sound, from 1866.
blarney (n.) Look up blarney at
"exceedingly complimentary language," 1796, from Blarney Stone (which is said to make a persuasive flatterer of any who kiss it), in a castle near Cork, Ireland. As Bartlett explains it, the reason is the difficulty of the feat of kissing the stone where it sits high up in the battlement: "to have ascended it, was proof of perseverence, courage, and agility, whereof many are supposed to claim the honor who never achieved the adventure." So to have kissed the Blarney Stone came to mean "to tell wonderful tales" ["Dictionary of Americanisms," 1848]. The word reached wide currency through Lady Blarney, the smooth-talking flatterer in Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield" (1766). As a verb from 1803.
blase (adj.) Look up blase at
"bored from overindulgence, weary of the pleasures of life," 1819 [Byron], from French blasé, past participle of blaser "to satiate" (17c.), which is of unknown origin. Perhaps from Dutch blazen "to blow" (ultimately from PIE root *bhle- "to blow"), with a sense of "puffed up under the effects of drinking."