B The second letter, and the first consonant, in the English language. It is etymologically convertible with m, p, v, and w, letters representing sounds having a close organic affinity to its own. — Webster, 1882
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The following is an incomplete list of the remaining indexed main headings. Once a completed entry has been uploaded, it will be removed from the list below and added to the links above. Subheadings, reference locators, and cross-referenced subentries are not included in this list. Always consult the completed entry for referenced source of definition used below.
bachelor / batchelor – A man of any age who has not been married. A young woman unmarried.
back-fire – An outdoor fire started deliberately with the intention of suppressing the spread of wildfire. It is set along the inner edge of a fire to consume the fuel in the path of an approaching fire or to change the direction of a fire’s line of progress.
back-stitch – A decorative and reinforcing stitch used in hand-sewing. It creates a line which follows curves well if the stitches are worked in a small and even manner. To start the stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric from back to front, a little in front of the last stitch and following the desired line. The second stitch is made back towards the existing line and enters the fabric at the exit point of the previous stitch. The stitch can be executed in either one or two movements.
Backward, turn backward, Oh time in thy flight – first line to “Rock Me to Sleep”
badger – A plantigrade quadruped related to the bear, of the genus Meles. It is a clumsy animal, with short, thick legs, and long claws on the fore feet. One species (M. vulgaris) inhabits the north of Europe and Asia, is indolent and sleeps, feeds by night, mostly on vegetables, and is generally very fat. Another species (M. Labradorica) inhabits North America, and is also called the ground-hog.
baking powder – A leavening made of two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda, normally filled out with cornstarch.
balloon – A bag or hollow vessel, made of silk or other light material, and filled with hydrogen gas or heated air, so as to rise and float in the atmosphere;- called, for distinction, an air-balloon. In general, any spherical, hollow body.
balsam – A species of tree, Abies balsamea.
Bang! – A sudden loud noise or an exclamation used to express the sound of a sudden loud noise. The word does not appear in 1883 or 1897 Webster’s Dictionary in this context, but is an old Scottish word meaning an action expressive of haste.
bank, earthen – A mound, pile, or ridge of earth, raised above the surrounding level.
bank, financial institution – An establishment for the custody, or the loaning, exchange, or issue, of money, and for facilitating the transmission of funds by drafts or bills of exchange. The office of a banking establishment.
bankrupt – A trader who breaks or fails, or becomes unable to pay his debts in the ordinary course of trade; an insolvent trader.
bareback – To ride a horse without a saddle, to sit on the bare back of the animal.
bark – The exterior covering of the trunk and branches of a tree; the rind.
bark, sound – The noise made by a dog. To make the explosive noise of dogs and other canines. To pursue or annoy with continued vociferation or importunity; to clamor.
barley – A valuable grain, of the family of grasses, genus Hordeum, sometimes used for food, but chiefly for making malt, from which are prepared the liquors beer, ale, and porter. French barley and pearl barley are used for making decoctions. They are made by separating the grain from the husk. The pearl barley is reduced to the size of a small shot.
grass with heads like barley beards
barn – A covered building for storing grain, hay, flax, and other productions of the earth; also for stabling cattle and horses.
Barnum, Almanzo’s horse – Likely named after Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810 – 1891), American showman who is best known for founding the circus that became Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
barroom – The enclosed place of a tavern, inn, or coffee-house, where the landlord or his servant delivers out liquors, and waits upon customers.
Barry family – Pepin township neighbors of the Ingalls family.
bass, musical voice – The lowest part in a musical composition.
bass-wood – The lime-tree (Tilia glabra), or its bark, which is used for making mats, &c.
baste, sewing – To sew slightly, or with long stitches.
bath / bathing – A receptacle of water for persons to plunge or wash their bodies in. The act of exposing the body, for purposes of cleanliness, health, &c., to water or vapor; as a cold bath; a medicated bath; a steam bath, &c.
baw / bawl – v.i. To cry out with a loud, full sound; to cry with vehemence, as in calling or exultation. To cry loud, as a child from pain or vexation. To proclaim by outcry; as a common crier. n. A loud, prolonged cry.
“The Beacon Light of Home” – song
Beadle / Bedal family – Early North Hero Township settlers who platted the village of Walnut Grove.
bead – A little perforated ball, to be strung on thread, and worn for ornament.
beans – A well-known leguminous plant, and its seed, of many varieties, the principal species being the Faba vulgaris.
bear – A wild plantigrade quadruped of the genus Ursus. It belongs to the carnivorous order, but lives mostly on plants and fruits. Among the species are the brown bear of Europe (Ursus arctos), the white polar bear (U. maritimus), the grisly bear of the Rocky Mountains (U. horribilis), and the black bear of North America (U. Americanus).
beard – The hair that grows on the chin, lips, and adjacent parts of the face, chiefly of male adults.
beaten at its own game – saying
beau – A man of dress; a fine, gay man; one whose great care is to deck his person; a lady’s attendant or suitor.
Beauty, horse – One of a team of workhorses belonging to James Wilder.
beaver – A amphibious, rodent quadruped, of the genus Castor. It differs from other rodents especially by its palmated hind feet, and broad, flat, trowel-like tail, both characteristics fitting it for its burrowing and building habits. It is remarkable for its ingenuity in constructing its lodges or habitations. It is valued for its fur, and for the material called castor, obtained from two small bags in the groin of the animal. Its fur, which is mostly of a chestnut-brown, is the material of the best hats. The European species is the Castor fiber, and the American is generally considered as a variety of this, although sometimes named the Castor Americanus, or C. Canadensis.
bed – A bed is an article of furniture to sleep or take rest on; – usually a sack filled with some soft material, in distinction from the bedstead or framework on which it is placed.
bedlam – Belonging to, or fit for a mad house. An insane person; a lunatic; a madman.
bed shoes – Soft foot covering worn to keep the feet warm while sleeping.
beech, tree / grove – A tree of the genus Fagus. It grows to a large size, having a smooth bark and thick foliage, and bears a triangular nut, of which swine are fond. The F. ferruginea is the species of America.
bee – A four-winged insect of the order Hymenoptera, and family Apis. There are many genera and species; the common honey-bee is the Apis mellifica, and lives in swarms, each of which has its own queen, its males or drones, and its very numerous neuters or workers. Besides the A. mellifica, there are other species of honey-bees. The bumble-bee is a species of Bombus.
beer – A fermented liquor made from any malted grain, with hops and other bitter flavoring matters. A fermented extract of the roots and other parts of various plants, as spruce, ginger, sassafras, &c. Beer has different names, as small beer, ale, porter, brown-stout, lager beer, &c., according to its strength, or other qualities.
beholden – Obliged; bound in gratitude; indebted.
belfry – A bell-tower, usually attached to a church or other building, but sometimes separate; a campanile. A room in a tower in which a bell is or may be hung; or a cupola or turret for that same purpose. The framing on which a bell is suspended.
bell – A hollow metallic vessel which gives forth a clear, musical, ringing sound on being struck. In its most common form, it is expanded at the lower part, is furnished at the top with an ear for the purpose of suspension, and has within it a tongue or clapper, by the blow of which the sound is produced. Another form, especially of small bells, is that of a hollow body of metal perforated, and containing a loose solid ball, to make a sound when it is shaken.
bellow – A loud outcry; roar.
bellows – An instrument, utensil, or machine for propelling air through a tube for various purposes.
Ben Davis apple – Popular apple cultivar during the 18th and 19th century, known for its ruggedness and keeping qualities.
Berry family, see Barry
Bess, horse – One of a team of workhorses belonging to James Wilder.
bested – To outwit or get the better of a person or situation.
Better far better than a love unblest – lyric from “Under the Daisies”
bias – In a slanting manner; crosswise, as to cut cloth. A wedge-shaped piece of cloth taken out of the waist of a dress to diminish its circumference.
Bible – THE BOOK, by way of eminence; the sacred volume, in which are contained the revelations of God, the principles of Christian faith, and the rules of practice; the Old and New Testaments; the Scriptures.
Big Jerry – Railroad worker, the French / Indian brother-in-law of Fred Fields.
Big Slough – Swampland south of De Smet.
Big Woods of Wisconsin – Informal term for the heavily forested area of northwest Wisconsin.
bin – A box or enclosed place, used as a repository of any commodity; as, a corn-bin, a wine-bin, a coal-bin.
Bird, May, see Burd, Mabel
Bisbee, Mr., see Bisby
blackboard – A board used in schools, &c. for writing, drawing lines, and various other purposes of instruction.
black-eyed Susan – A common North American species of flowering plants in the sunflower family (Rudbeckia hirta), native to the Eastern and Central North America.
black-face – Having a black face.
Black Hills – Isolated mountain range extending from western South Dakota into Wyoming.
blacksmith – A smith who works in iron, and makes iron utensils; an iron-smith.
“The Village Blacksmith” – Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), included in the Independent Fifth Reader.
Black Susan – Cat belonging to the Ingalls family in the Big Woods; she was left behind when the family relocated to Indian Territory.
bladder, pig’s – A bag or sac in animals, which serves as the receptacle of some secreted fluid; as, the urinary bladder, the gall bladder; – applied especially to the urinary bladder, either within the animal, or when taken out and inflated with air.
“Blame Yourself if You’re Sold” – song
blanket – A coarse, loosely woven cover, usually of wool, for beds, horses, &c., to protect from cold; sometimes worn around the shoulders.
bless – 1. To make happy, blithesome, or joyous; to confer prosperity or happiness upon. 2. To pronounce a wish of happiness to; to invoke a blessing upon. 3. To consecrate by pronouncing a blessing upon. 4. (Biblical) To praise, or glorify, for benefits; to extol for excellence.
blind – Destitute of the sense of seeing, either by natural defect or by deprivation; not having sight.
blithely – In a gay, merry, joyous, sprightly, mirthful, or blithe manner.
bloodsucker – Any animal that sucks blood; specifically applied to the leech (Sanguisuga medicinalis).
blueberry – A kind of whortleberry (Vaccinium Pennsylvanicum) common in America.
Blue-Eyes – Nickname for Grace Ingalls used by Charles Ingalls in the Little House books.
bluebills – Colloquial name for the greater scaup (Aythya marila) in North America.
blue jay – Common bird (Cyanocitta cristata) of the eastern United States, known for its raucous call.
blue-stem / bluestem /blue-joint grass – Tall grass of the family Poaceae (Andropogon gerardi), native to much of the Great Plains and prairies of central and eastern North America.
bluff – A high bank, almost perpendicular, projecting into the sea or a river.
board – To furnish with food, for compensation; as, a man boards ten students. To place at board, for compensation; as to board one’s horse at a livery stable.
bodice – Stays; a kind of quilted waistcoat stiffened with whalebone, worn by women; a corset.
bole – The body or stem of a tree.
bolt – The quantity of twenty-eight ells of canvas. An ell is a measure, of different lengths in different countries, used chiefly for measuring cloth. The English ell is 45 inches; the Flemish ell is 27; the Scotch is 37.2; the French, 54.
bombazine – A twilled fabric of which the warp is silk, and the weft worsted; formerly black, for mourning garments, but now made of various colors.
bone – A firm, hard substance, of a dull white color, composing the skeleton or firmer part of the body in the higher orders of animals.
boning, in corset – Whalebone in stays.
bonfire – A fire made as an expressionof public joy and exultation, or for amusement.
bonnet – A covering for the head, worn by females.
book-keeper / bookkeeper – One who keeps accounts; one who has the charge of keeping the books and accounts in an office.
Boone, Daniel – American explorer and colonizer (1735-1820).
boot – A covering for the foot and leg, ordinarily made of leather.
boss – To hold mastery over; to direct or superintend work; as, to boss the house. The master workman or superintendent.
bough – An arm or large branch of a tree.
boughten / store-boughten – Purchased goods.
boulder – A large stone, worn smooth or rounded by the action of water.
boxcar – Enclosed railroad car used to carry general freight.
box elder – The ash-leaved maple (Negundium Americanium), a native of North America.
brace – A pair; a couple; as, a brace of ducks.
Braille – Tactile writing / reading system employed by the visually impaired, named after its inventor, Louis Braille (1809-1852).
bran – The proper coat of the seed of wheat, rye, or other farinaceous grain, separated from the flour by bolting.
brandy – An ardent spirit distilled from wine. The name is also given to spirit distilled from other liquors, and in the United States particularly to that which is distilled from cider and peaches. In the north of Europe, the term is also applied to a spirit obtained from grain.
brant – A brand-goose. A species of wild goose, of the genus Anas, usually called, in America, brant (Anser bernicla).
brash – Hasty in temper; impetuous.
brass – An alloy of copper and zinc, of a yellow color, usually containing about one third of its weight of zinc; but the proportions are variable. Utensils or other articles made of brass.
bread / loaf of bread – An article of food made by moistening and kneading, and usually fermenting, the flour or meal of some species of grain, and baking it.
break – 1. The act of subduing and training to labor. To tame; to reduce to subjection; to make tractable; to discipline. 2. To come apart or to pieces with violence. To shatter or crush. To open the earth as for planting; to commence excavation, as for building, siege operations, and the like.
breaks, along the river – An opening to a water course made by fracture or disruption in the surrounding uplands.
briar – Also brier: a prickly plant or shrub.
bridge – A structure, usually of wood, stone, brick, or iron, erected over a river or other watercourse, or over a ravine, railroad, &c., to make a continuous roadway from one bank to the other.
bridle – An instrument with which a horse is governed and restrained, consisting of a head-stall, a bit, and reins, with other appendages, according to its particular form and uses.
brindle – Spotted; variegated with spots of different color.
brine – Water saturated or strongly impregnated with salt.
brood – A hatch; the young birds hatched at once; as a brood of chickens. To sit over, cover, and cherish; as, a hen broods her chickens. To cherish with care.
Brookings / Brookins, Dakota Territory – Town in Brookings County platted in 1879 and named for Wilmont W. Brookings, a prominent land developer.
broom – A besom, or brush with a long handle, for sweeping floors, &c.; so called from being originally made of the broom plant.
brother – He who is born of the same father and mother with another, or f one of them only. In the latter case he is called a half-brother, or brother of the half blood.
brother-in-law – The brother of a husband or wife; also, a sister’s husband.
Brown, John – Captain John, of Osawatomie (1800-1859).
“John Brown’s Body” – Originally “John Brown’s Song,” a popular marching song during the Civil War, about the abolitionist, John Brown (1800-1859), who was a first cousin of Reverend Edward Brown of De Smet.
Brown, Mr. – The Ingallses’ neighbor in Indian Territory.
Brown, Nick – Tin peddler in Franklin County, New York.
Brown’s saloon – Name used for proprietor of a saloon in De Smet.
brown sugar – Sugar is a sweet, crystalline substance obtained from certain vegetable products, as the sugar-cane, maple, beet, sorghum, and the like. The sugar in common domestic use is manufactured chiefly from the sugar-cane (Saccharum officinarium), but also from the sugar-maple, the beet, the sorghum, and other plants. From the saccharine liquor, after being concentrated by heat, and undergoing other treatment, the sugar separates from the molasses in grains. The sirup or molasses is drained off, leaving the sugar in the state known in commerce by the name of raw or muscovado sugar, it being then of a dark-brown color. It is afterwards refined, and takes the names of lump, loaf, refined, &c., according to the different degrees of purification.
brushwood – Brush; a thicket or coppice of small trees and shrubs. Small branches of trees cut off.
Buck – Name of Mr. Edwards’ ox.
buckskin horse – A horse of a grayish-yellow color.
buck-brush – The common name for several species of North American shrubs that deer feed on. Probably coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus.
bucket – A vessel for drawing up water, as from a well, or for carrying water or other liquids.
buckram – A coarse linen cloth, stiffened with glue, used in garments to keep them in the form intended, and for wrappers to cover cloths and other merchandise.
buckshot – A coarse shot used by hunters for large game.
buff – A color between light pink and light yellow.
buffalo – A species of the genus Bos, originally from India, but now found in most of the warmer countries of the eastern continent. It is larger and less docile than the common ox, and is fond of marshy places and rivers. The name is also applied to wild oxen in general, and particularly, but erroneously, to the bison of North America. See bison.
buffalo fish – A fish of remarkable form, of the genus Taurichthys.
buggy – A light one-horse chaise. A light, one-horse, four-wheel vehicle, usually with one seat, and with or without a calash top.
bull dog / bulldog – A variety of dog, of remarkable ferocity and courage; so named, probably from being employed in baiting bulls, or from the size of the head.
bullet – A missile, usually of lead, and round or conical in form, to be discharged from small-arms.
bullhead – A fish of the genus Cottus, especially the C. gobio. In America, a species of Pimelodus, called likewise cat-fish and horned-pout.
bunk – A wooden case or box, which serves for a seat in the day-time and for a bed at night; one of a series of berths or bed places arranged in vertical tiers.
Bunny, mule colt – Offspring of Pet, one of the Ingallses’ ponies in Indian Territory.
Burd, Mabel – Daughter of Samantha and George Burd, and wife of Frank Harthorn of De Smet.
bureau – A chest of drawers for clothes, &c., especially when made an ornamental piece of furniture. This sense comes naturally from the original meaning, a desk or writing table, with drawers for papers.
burly – Of great bulk, especially with the idea of strength and coarseness of appearance; full in figure; stout; lusty.
burr, speech pattern – A guttural pronunciation of the letter r, produced by trilling the extremity of the soft palate against the back part of the tongue; rotacism; often called the Newcastle, Northumberland, or Tweedside burr.
bushwhack – To lie in ambush for, lie in wait for. (1913 Webster’s)
bustle, fashion – n. A kind of pad or cushion worn by ladies for the purpose of expanding the skirts behind; also called a bishop.
bustle, activity – v. Great stir; quick motion from excitement; hurried activity; tumult from stirring or excitement.
butcher / butchering – One who slaughters animals, or dresses their flesh for market; one whose occupation is to kill animals for food.
buttercup – A plant of the genus Ranunculus, or crowfoot, particularly R. bulbosa, with bright yellow flowers; also called golden-cup and kingcup.
butterfly – An insect of different species of the order Lepidoptera, and especially of the family Papilio.
butternut – An American tree (the Juglans cinerea) and its fruit, so called from the oil contained in the latter; sometimes called oil-nut and white walnut.
“By gum” – saying
“By George!” – saying
“By Jinks!” – saying
“By Jove” – saying