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B, b [Called ‘bee’]. The 2nd LETTER of the modern Roman ALPHABET as used for English. It descends from the Phoenician symbol bēth (‘house’), which was adopted by the Greeks as beta, B, then by the Romans as B.

Sound values

In English, b normally represents the voiced bilabial stop, with p as its voiceless equivalent: bad/pad. Word-final b is rare, occurring mainly in monosyllables (hub, rib, scab), but occasionally in longer words (superb, disturb, cherub).

Double B

(1) The doubling of b occurs when monosyllables with a short vowel are followed by -er, -ed, and -ing: rob/robber/robbed/robbing (contrast the phonetically long vowel in daub/dauber/daubed/daubing). (2) Many disyllables contain double b after a stressed short vowel (abbey, rabbit, ribbon, rubber, rubble), but many others do not (cabin, debit, double, habit, robin).

Silent B

B is silent after syllable-final m (dumb, numb, tomb), including in some words of Germanic origin in which it was formerly pronounced (climb, comb, dumb, lamb, womb) and in French-derived words with final mb (aplomb, bomb, jamb, plumb, succumb, tomb). In a number of words, a silent b has been added by analogy: crumb, limb, numb, thumb. In some of these, it was created by backformation from words of the type crumble, thimble (formerly without b). Crum began to be written with b in the 16c, but occurs without it in Johnson's dictionary (1755) and in some 19c dictionaries. Derivatives from mb-words mostly keep the silent b, as in climber, lambing, thumbing, but b is pronounced in such non-derivative polysyllables as cucumber, encumber, Humber, slumber. There is no b in dummy, derived from dumb, or crummy, derived from crumb, and although b is not pronounced finally in bomb, medial b is pronounced in bombard.

Epenthetic B

B is epenthetic in debt, doubt, and subtle, which entered English from French as dette, doute, and soutil. As in French, these words were given a b in deference to their Latin etymons debitum, dubitum, and subtilis. However, while French shed b in dette and doute in the 18c and came to pronounce the b in subtil, English has kept a silent b in all three. EPENTHESIS also occurs after medial m in some words: for example, Latin camera and numerus became French chambre and nombre, English chamber and number. Compare German fummeln and rummeln with English fumble and rumble.

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B1 / / (also b) • n. (pl. Bs or B's ) 1. the second letter of the alphabet. ∎  the second highest class of academic mark. ∎  denoting the second-highest-earning socioeconomic category for marketing purposes, including intermediate management and professional personnel. ∎  (usu. b) the second constant to appear in an algebraic equation. ∎  the human blood type (in the ABO system) containing the B antigen and lacking the A. 2. (usu. B) Mus. the seventh note of the diatonic scale of C major. ∎  a key based on a scale with B as its keynote. PHRASES: plan B an alternative strategy: it's time I put plan B into action. B2 • abbr. ∎  black (used in describing grades of pencil lead): 2HB pencils. ∎  (in personal ads) Black. ∎  bomber (in designations of U.S. aircraft types): a B52. • symb. ∎  the chemical element boron. ∎  Physics magnetic flux density.

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B A programming language derived from BCPL, developed in 1970 as an implementation language for the PDP-11 version of the UNIX operating system. Like BCPL, B was a type-free language: it was soon superseded by C, the main difference being the addition of types.

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B, second letter of the alphabet. Its Greek correspondent is named beta. It is a usual symbol for a voiced bilabial stop. In musical notation it is used to represent a note in the scale. In chemistry B is the symbol of the element boron.

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B Second letter of the Roman-based w European alphabet, almost always representing a voiced bilabial plosive consonant or stop. It is probably derived from an Egyptian hieroglyph for a house (c.3000 bc), which became part of the Semitic alphabet about 1500 years later as the letter beth. From there it was taken to Greece (c.600 bc) to become beta, the forerunner of the Roman and thus the modern B.

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b • abbr. ∎  (b.) born (used to indicate a date of birth): George Lloyd (b. 1913). ∎  billion.

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b. In scientific terminology, -ite is used after the type of Gr.-L. words in -ītēs or -ītis in names of fossils and minerals. In chem., it is used in the names of certain organic compounds, and in inorganic chem. is the termination of salts of acids denominated by adjs. in -ous, e.g. nitrite/nitrous. It forms also certain names of explosives, e.g. cordite, dynamite, and of commercial products such as ebonite, vulcanite, xylonite.

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B. 7th degree of natural scale of C. So B♭, B♭♭, B♮, B♯, B♯♯, B major, B minor etc. In Ger., B=B♭ and B♭=B♭♭. The Eng. note B is represented in Ger. by H (hence composers can write fantasias on the name BACH, the notes being B♭–A–C–B♮. J. S. Bach himself used these notes in the unfinished final fugue of The Art of Fugue).

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B the second letter of the modern English alphabet and of the ancient Roman one, corresponding to Greek beta, Hebrew beth, used symbolically to denote the second of two or more hypothetical persons or things.See also not know a B from a battledore.

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b Physics, symbol for barn
• Physics bottom (a quark flavour)
• indicating the second vertical row of squares from the left on a chessboard