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B, the second letter of the English alphabet, as it was of the Phoenician and is in most of the alphabets borrowed from the Phoenician, is the beta of the Greeks, the beth of the Phoenicians. Beth means a "house."
Babies in the eyes, a common locution for the reflection of one's self in another's pupils. Thus, Herrick in "The Kiss :"
It is an active flame that flies
First to the babies in the eyes.
Inasmuch as lovers are fond of gazing in one another's eyes, an obvious conceit suggested the phrase "to look" or "to make babies in the eyes," which is sufficiently exemplified in the following passages :
Be sure when you come into company that you do not stand staring the men in the face as if you were making babies in their eyes.-Quevedo.
Look babies in your eyes, my pretty sweet one.
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER: The Loyal Subject.
So when thou saw'st in nature's cabinet
Stella thou straight look'st babies in her eyes.
SIDNEY: Astrophel and Stella.
Backsheesh, an Oriental term for a present of money, a gratuity, a pour
There are not many words, even among those of foreign extraction, of which the orthography offers no less than thirteen alternatives. We have, however, the authority of the great English dictionary now issuing (very deliberately) from the Clarendon press, for declaring that backsheesh is one of the few which enjoy this privilege. Originally of Persian origin, it seems to have made its first appearance in Western literature very soon after the death of Shakespeare, for in 1625 we find "bacsheese (as they say in the Arabique tongue), that is gratis freely" (PURCHAS: Pilgrimes, ii. 1340). Whether or no the term ever really had this meaning, it were difficult now to determine, but assuredly for many years past it has signified something very different. In what may be called its most vulgar and aggravating sense, it is the first word to greet the English traveller, and the last to ring in his ears as he turns his face homeward. Probably no other single vocable rises with such persistent frequency as this to the lips of the dusky Oriental. It is like what the mathematicians call a constant quantity, a ground discord which underlies his every chord, a sort of spectral diapason from which there is no escape.-Macmillan's Magazine, August, 1891.
Back-talk, in American slang, "sass," impudence, the unwarranted retort of a subordinate to his employer, or of an inferior to a superior. "That's exactly what I came here for this evening, Miss Mildred."
The young man laid aside his hat, cane, and gloves.
"That's exactly what I came for," he repeated, possessing himself of her hand. you for my wife.
"You might have saved yourself the trouble, Mr. Fairball," exclaimed the girl, taking her hand away. "I shall never marry you."
"Another word of back-talk like that," said the young base-ball umpire, quietly but firmly passing his arm around her waist and pulling her head down on his shoulder, "will cost you twenty-five dollars."-Chicago Tribune.
Backward, Looking. The superstition of the ill luck of looking backward, or returning, is a very ancient one, originating doubtless from the story of Lot's wife, who “looked back from behind him" when he was led by an
angel outside the doomed City of the Plain. In Robert's “Oriental Illustrations" it is stated to be "considered exceedingly unfortunate in Hindostan for men or women to look back when they leave their house. Accordingly, if a man goes out and leaves something behind him which his wife knows he will want, she does not call him to turn or look back, but takes or sends it after him; and if some great emergency obliges him to look back, he will not then proceed on the business he was about to transact." In this connection a curious parallel between the Bible and Hesiod may be noted: "No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke ix. 62), and "He who is intent upon his work, drawing the straight furrow, never looks back upon his friends, but keeps his mind upon his work” (Works and Days, ii. 61-62).
Bacon, To save one's, a proverbial saying, meaning, in Biblical phrase, to escape by the skin of one's teeth, to keep one's self from harm by a narrow margin. It is not impossible that there is some allusion here to the Dunmow flitch (q. v.). A man and his wife who stopped short when on the verge of a quarrel might be said to have just saved their bacon. An equally plausible derivation is suggested by a correspondent of Notes and Queries, 2d series, iv. 132: "When a pig is killed, it is the custom in some of the southern countries of Europe, as well as in many parts of England, to remove the bristles from the dead pig's hide, not by scalding, but by singeing. This is an operation of some nicety; for too much singeing would spoil the bacon. But practice makes perfect; and by the aid of ignited stubble, straw, or paper the object is effected. The bristles are all singed off, and the bacon remains intact. This operation is in Portugal called chamuscar." Hence the phrase cheira a chamusco ("he smells of singeing"), which by extension was applied to any suspected heretic, or to one who was secretly a Jew, that is to say, "to one who deserved to be burnt, and acted in a way that was very likely to lead to it" (Moraes). It readily follows that the man might be said to have just saved his bacon who had narrowly escaped the penalty of being burned alive. The only fault with this ingenious theory is that it lacks illustrative examples to bridge over the chasm between a recognized metaphor and a chartered proverbial saying. Dr. Murray traces the use of the expression in English as far back as 1691: "No, they'll conclude I do it to save my bacon."-Weesils, i. 5.
But here I say the Turks were much mistaken
Bad egg, American slang for a rascal, a black sheep, a person whose reputation is odorous.
There is some philosophy in the remark that a man may be a bad egg, and yet not be a nuisance until he is broke.-Sporting Times.
Bag. Both as a verb and as a noun this word is put to many strange uses in current slang. As a verb it may mean to secure, to obtain (an extension of the sporting phrase, meaning to put or enclose game in a bag), and hence to steal, to capture. In sailors' and printers' slang, bag as a noun means a pot of beer, and to get one's head in a bag is to drink. Other phrases in common colloquial use are to give the bag or sack, meaning to dismiss from one's service; to let the cat out of the bag; to give one the bag to hold,-to leave him in the lurch,—and to put one in a bag, which latter phrase Fuller thus explains: "They [the Welsh] had a kind of plaie wherein the stronger who prevailed put the weaker into a sack; and hence we have borrowed our English by-word, to express such betwixt whom there is apparent odds of strength: He is able to put him up in a bagge."-Worthies: Cardigan, ii. 579.
Baggage-Smasher, in American slang, a name humorously given to a railway porter, because of his reckless way of handling luggage, also to a thief who hangs about railway-stations waiting for a chance to steal the luggage.
Fashionable people who have spent the summer at the watering-places or at the sea-side, but have now returned to the cities, assert that the baggage-smasher has become more destructive than ever. The baggage-smasher is indeed a terror. In fact, there are two of them: the one who flits from station to station and dumps your poor dumb trunk with force enough to drive piles in a government breakwater, and the one who loiters around the dépôt watching for his chance to shatter your baggage. The dépôt baggage-man is the most culpable of the two species. In his long and dark career of smashing trunks, he has evidently knocked the hoops off his conscience, and there is no remorse brave, foolish, or reckless enough to tackle his heart-strings and play on them.-Texas Siftings, November 3, 1888.
Baker, To spell. To attempt a difficult task. In the old spelling-books baker was the first word of two syllables, and seemed an almost insuperable obstacle to the child who had encountered only words of one syllable.
If an old man will marry a young wife, why, then-why, then-why, then-he must spell baker.-LONGFELLOW: New England Tragedies.
Baker's Dozen. Thirteen. The phrase is often used colloquially for good measure running over. In medieval times bakers were kept rigidly under the eye of the law, their vocation being one on which the public health and prosperity largely depended. From the time of King John, their profits were regulated by enactment, due allowance being made for labor, cost of fuel and raw material, wear and tear of the oven, services of assistants, and expenses attending the sale. Stringent penalties, changed by a law of Edward II. from heavy fines to the pillory, were inflicted for offences against the required weight or quality of loaves. Hence there grew up a precautionary custom for bakers to give a surplus loaf, called the in-bread or the vantage-loaf, to all purchasers of a dozen. To a dozen of rolls fourteen were allowed. This custom is still kept up in certain parts of Scotland. And in the wholesale book-trade in England to this day a publisher's dozen is thirteen copies. Henry Hudson, when he discovered the bay which bears his name (1610), gave to a cluster of thirteen or fourteen islands on the east shore the name of Baker's Dozen: these were given in D'Anville's French Atlas under the title "La Douzaine du Boulanger." How bakers thirteen loaves do give
All for a shilling, and thrive well and live.
TAYLOR THE WATER POET: Travels of Twelve Pence. In this volume there are several feigned stories; also, there are some morals, and some dialogues, but they are as the advantage loaf of bread in the baker's dozen. MARGARET, DUCHESS OF NEWCASTLE: Nature's Picture (1656).
Balaam, a bit of journalistic slang which was popularized by Blackwood's Magazine in the days of Christopher North, is defined by Lockhart as “the cant name for asinine paragraphs about monstrous productions of nature and the like, kept standing in type to be used whenever the real news of the day leave an awkward space that must be filled up somehow." (Life of Scott, lxx. 622 (1842).) Of course it is an allusion to Numbers xxii. 30, where Balaam's ass spoke "with man's voice." A balaam's box was a receptacle for old jokes, anecdotes, and other chestnuts which were editorially used to fill up space. It now survives in the sense of a waste-basket for rejected manuscripts.
An essay for the Edinburgh Review in "the old unpolluted English language" would have been consigned by the editor to his Balaam basket.-HALL: Modern English.
Bald-headed Row, in America, a humorous colloquialism for the front seats of the orchestra or parquet (the English pit) in theatres, so named by the fun-makers of the press, who assume that such seats are always taken by
old or middle-aged respectability, anxious to get as close as possible to the favorites of the foot-lights. It is a part of the assumption that the favorites in their turn reserve their choicest smiles for these ancient admirers. Dr. Wm. Hammond, in a semi-jocose essay, "Will the coming man be bald?" (Forum, No. 1), makes indirect allusion to this popular fancy: "The principle of natural selection, though up to this time an insignificant influence in causing baldness, is beginning to add its great force to the accomplishment of what is evidently an object of nature. Women, who in general, even within the knowledge of the present generation, did not take kindly to bald-headed men, are gradually overcoming their prejudices, and see in the bare head an element of manly beauty. Should this tendency become wide-spread, the days of hair on the head of men are numbered, and a few hundred years will see the end. Some nations, however, will reach this stage of development sooner than others. If we may judge from present appearances, and from our knowledge of his advance in other directions, the American will distance all competitors in this race."
Ballads. Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun is remembered in literature by a single phrase, and that phrase is not his own. Writing to the Marquis of Montrose, he says, "I knew a very wise man that believed that if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation." Much ingenious conjecture has been wasted upon the identity of the wise man. As good a guess as any names John Selden, who was a friend and contemporary of Fletcher's.
The French proverb, "France is an absolute monarchy tempered by songs," emphasizes the important part which popular poetry may play in political matters. And Beaumarchais's phrase, "Tout finit par des chansons" ("Everything ends with songs," Mariage de Figaro), is a recognition of the fact that not only do the French people find subjects for mirth in the most serious things, but also that the songs in which they embody their mirth may have a grave significance. The truth of this was well exemplified when Soubise announced his defeat at Rossbach, in 1757, by writing to Louis XV., "The rout of your army is complete. I cannot say how many of your officers have been killed, captured, or lost." The letter was greeted with a shout of laughter. Here is one of the songs:
Soubise dit, la lanterne à la main,
J'ai beau chercher où diable est mon armée;
Me l'a-t-on prise, ou l'aurais-je égarée ?
(Soubise, lantern in hand, cries, "I can't find out where the devil my army is. Yet it was here yesterday morning. Has it been taken from me, or have I mislaid it ?")
Duruy, in his comment on this incident, says, "The judge most to be feared then was not the king, it was the public, upon whom everything began to depend, and who punished the incapacity of generals and the mistakes of ministers with biting satires."-History of France, ii. 452.
Ballooning, an American slang term of no wide popularity, meaning exaggerating, indulging in buncombe, pulling the long bow. The origin of the phrase is attributed to a Yankee who boasted that he had fought a duel in a balloon and brought down his adversary, balloon and all. Yet just such a duel was actually fought in Paris in 1808. A M. de Grandpré and a M. le Pique, having quarrelled about a lady, agreed to have it out in balloons, each party to fire at the other's balloon and try to bring it down. A month was consumed in preparing the balloons, exactly similar in size and shape; and on a fine day the principals and their seconds ascended from the Tuileries Garden, armed
with blunderbusses. When they were about half a mile up, and some eighty yards apart, the signal was given, and M. le Pique missed. M. de Grandpre, however, made a successful shot, and his opponent's balloon went down with tremendous rapidity, both principal and second being instantly killed,―much to the satisfaction of the spectators.
Banbury saint, a rigid, puritanical hypocrite. Even before the Puritan era, Banbury seems to have been noted for the Phariseeism of its inhabitants, so that, according to a popular saying, men were in the habit of hanging their cats on Monday for catching mice on Sunday. In proof of the antiquity of the phrase, Dr. Murray cites from a letter addressed by Latimer to Henry VIII., about 1528, the expression, "Their laws, customs, ceremonies, and Banbury glosses." Banbury cheese was a poor, thin cheese. Thus, Shakespeare, in Merry Wives of Windsor," Act i. Sc. 1., makes Bardolph compare Slender to a Banbury cheese, in ridicule of his eponymic slenderness.
Banyan- or Banian-days, a nautical phrase applied to those days on which sailors are allowed no flesh meat. The Banians are a caste of Hindoo traders who entirely abstain from animal food. But it is also suggested that the term arises from those sanitary arrangements in tropical climates which counsel the substitution of banyans and other fruit on very hot days.
They told me that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the ship's company had no allowance of meat, and that these meagre days were called Banyan-days, the reason of which they did not know, but I have since learned they take their denomination from a sect of devo tees in some parts of the East Indies, who never taste flesh.-SMOLLETT: Roderick Random, ch. xxv.
May your honor never know a banyan-day, and a sickly season for you into the bargain!— MARRYAT: Japhet in Search of a Father.
Barking up the wrong tree, an American locution applied to one who is at fault in his purpose or in the means to attain it. An allusion to the mistake made by dogs when they fancy they have "treed" the game, which has really escaped by leaping from one tree to another.
Professor Rose, who hit this town last spring, is around calling us a fugitive from justice, and asking why the police don't do something. Gently, Professor. When we left Xenia, O., the sheriff patted us on the back and lent us half a dollar. We are the only man in this town who doesn't turn pale when the stage comes in, and the only one who doesn't break for the sagebrush when it is announced that the United States Marshal is here. We ain't rich or pretty, but we are good, and the Professor is barking up the wrong tree.—The Arizona Kicker, in Detroit Free Press, October, 1888.
Bar'l, a slangy abbreviation of the word barrel, meaning a barrel of money. In the spring of 1876, when the Democratic party was selecting its delegates to the National Convention which subsequently nominated Samuel J. Tilden for the Presidency, the Globe Democrat of St. Louis alluded to that gentleman as the candidate with a bar'l, meaning that he was able and willing to spend large sums to influence his election. The phrase was caught up all over the country, and bar'l became synonymous with wealth in the case of a political candidate.
Barnacle goose, a species of maritime goose, known also as the Solan or Brant goose, and anciently called aves Hibernicæ ("Irish birds"), or, in the diminutive, Hiberniculæ. The dropping of the first syllable of the latter word converted them into Berniculæ, and at this etymological stage their name was easily confounded with that of the bivalves known as Bernaculæ, or barnacles. Hence arose the myth that the goose was sprung from the barnacle, an extraordinary instance of the power of etymology. So early as the twelfth century, Giraldus Cambrensis says, in his "Topography of Ireland,"