second letter of the Latin alphabet, corresponding to Greek beta, Phoenician beth, literally "house." It "has nothing of that variety of pronunciation shown by most English letters" [Century Dictionary]. The Germanic "b" is said to represent a "bh" sound in Proto-Indo-European, which continued as "bh" in Sanskrit, became "ph" in Greek (brother/Greek phrater; bear (v.)/Greek pherein) and "f" in Latin (frater, ferre).
Often indicating "second in order." B-movie is by 1939, usually said to be so called from being the second, or supporting, film in a double feature. Some film industry sources say it was so called for being the second of the two films major studios generally made in a year, and the one cast with less headline talent and released with less promotion. And early usage varies with grade-B movie, suggesting a perceived association with quality.
B-side of a gramophone single is by 1962 (flip-side is by 1949). B-girl, abbreviation of bar girl, U.S. slang for a woman paid to encourage customers at a bar to buy her drinks, is by 1936.
"conventional, complacent, materialistic American businessman," 1923, from the name of the title character of Sinclair Lewis' novel (1922).
His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April 1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the selling of houses for more money than people could afford to pay. [Sinclair Lewis, "Babbitt," 1922]
Earlier the name was used in metallurgy (1857) in reference to a type of soft alloy (1875).
late 14c., "infant, young child of either sex," short for baban (early 13c.), which probably is imitative of baby talk (see babble (v.)). In many languages the word means "old woman" (compare Russian babushka "grandmother," from baba "peasant woman"), and it is also sometimes a child's variant of papa "father."
The simplest articulations, and those which are readiest caught by the infant mouth, are the syllables formed by the vowel a with the primary consonants of the labial and dental classes, especially the former ; ma, ba, pa, na, da, ta. Out of these, therefore, is very generally formed the limited vocabulary required at the earliest period of infant life comprising the names for father, mother, infant, breast, food. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
Crist crid in cradil, "moder, baba!" [John Audelay, c. 1426]
Now mostly superseded by its diminutive form baby. Used figuratively for "a childish person" from 1520s. Meaning "attractive young woman" is 1915, college slang (baby as "girl, young woman, girlfriend" is attested by 1839; see babe). Babe in arms is one so young it has to be carried; babe in the woods "an innocent among perils" is from 1795.