B is for…

The Letter B

Well, dear readers, my workload continues to be a little intense, but I didn’t want to leave you hanging — and after the positive response my first Vocabulary Series post (A is for…) received, I figured a second one might tide you over until I can find some time to write a more in-depth post on commas or pronouns or something…

Before I move on to the words I’ve chosen for the letter B, I wanted to say thank you to all of my readers who replied to the first post — and a special thanks to those of you (who clearly share my geeky love of language) who suggested words for the series! Please keep them coming!

Okay, here is my first choice for B, which I love because it sounds exactly like what it is:

Bitumen (noun)

Etymology: Comes from the Latin word bitumen, meaning asphalt or mineral pitch. The first syllable, betu- is thought to come from the Celtic word for birch resin, which comes from betulla, meaning birch (referred to by Pliny to describe the tree from which bitumen comes).

Definition: A black viscous (tar-like) mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or derived from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.

Example: Carl ran into some trouble after the earthquake, when he mistook spilled bitumen for molasses. Bitumen spice cookies look and smell deceptively tasty.


And here is the second word, which I love for the opposite reason. In my opinion, the following word doesn’t sound anything like what it means:

Bucolic (adjective & noun)

Etymology: First seen in its current use in the early 1600s. Comes from the Latin bucolicus, which comes from the Greek boukolikos, meaning pastoral or rustic. This, in turn, likely came from the Greek word boukolos, meaning cowherd or herdsman, which combines the words bous, meaning ox or cow, and kolos, meaning tending. The Middle Irish word búachaill and the Welsh bugail (both meaning shepherd) are Celtic versions that come from the same Greek roots.

Definition (adjective): Pertaining to an idyllic life in the countryside; rustic; the pleasant aspects of country life.

Definition (noun): Is typically plural (bucolics); refers to pastoral poetry.

Example (adjective): While the bucolic landscape was soothing to her soul, Andrea couldn’t help but wonder why there was so much garlic hanging by the front door.

Example (noun): Fred was disappointed when his publisher suggested bucolics for his next poetry collection; the mere thought of country air was enough to trigger Fred’s agoraphobia.


Once again, etymological information and definitions come from the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online and the Online Etymology Dictionary.


Image credit: Uladzimir Bakunovich / Photoxpress.com

9 thoughts on “B is for…

  1. buachaill is usually used for ‘Boy’ now a days. Probably a shift in usage! Funny how that works. Very interesting Suzanne! 🙂

    1. Oh, that is really interesting! Thanks for sharing. It’s fascinating to see how language changes over time. As always, thanks for commenting Joe! 🙂

  2. bucolic is a great word because it sounds like an illness that used to kill people back when consumption did…your sentence for bitumen is hilarious – reminds me of the time when I made pastry shells full of beef and mashed potatoes and my ex’s dad sat down with a bowl of ice cream, thinking he was about the get something sweet 😉

    1. Ha! Poor man must have been surprised. 😀
      Yeah, that’s pretty much what bucolic conjures up for me too — oozing sores and death-rattle coughs. Not idyllic at all.

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