Is by - near - related to bi - double? I tried going through wiktionary to find out, but to no avail.

I can tell that 'bi-' is from latin, and there is no mention of 'by' being from latin. However, in Middle English, 'bi' means 'near', and surely the latinate term existed at that time?

Bi- existed in English, via 'biscuit', since 1330, and Middle English 1100 AD to 1500 AD

  • Whenever a Germanic word (almost any word that existed in English before the Normans) has the same stops (p,t,k,b,d,g) as a non-Germanic word: no, they're not related, because the Germanic languages altered all their stops. Aug 2, 2020 at 2:35
  • @AntonSherwood that was however not an instantanious switch, unless Proto-Germanic was condensed to a single point perhaps somewhere in the Blackwood-Forest, the Island of Helgoland, or Gotland, Sweden. Instead, Germanic is a group of languages defined precisely by the occurance of this shift, that was likely a chain shift. Then it is of course possible that loanwords escaped the wave of change sweeping the landscape to be reintroduced into an already changed lect before intermittent host also changed. It's not clear what caused this change, but it seems that Rome had already made contact ...
    – vectory
    Dec 9, 2020 at 0:44
  • ... in that sense, cp. takko, dicht "tight, dense, close-by" (takko only in the euphemism nicht ganz dicht "not fully sane; crazy", idiom. alles takko "all well"). That might simply be the Low German variant, but these dentals are the more difficult correspondances, in my humble experience. English and Frisian inexplicably lost the fricative feature. The root appears to be the same as is speculatively reconstructed for blot thing "assembly". We also see Ge-Dicht "poem" which is reminiscent of *ghedh- (thus cp. "history" in Slovenian; otherwise reflected in gather).
    – vectory
    Dec 9, 2020 at 0:59
  • ... As regards theory, L. bi is usually explained from dui, duo, not that this would make any sense if the change appears only sporadicly three times in the lexicon (bellum, duellum; bonus, duonus). On the other hand we see both coming from *bi and then some, expressing a clear connection to two. We also see condense, denseo "to crowd". These are incompatible only if you want it to be so, because otherwise you'd have to deal with a bunch of fossils that could give old Grimm nightmares. But one may be hopeful. Also cp. *me-, mit; and perhaps Hittite "4".
    – vectory
    Dec 9, 2020 at 1:43

1 Answer 1


Latin bi- comes from earlier Latin dui-. It’s related to Greek di-, coming ultimately from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *dwís ‘double’, a form of *dwóh₁ ‘two’ (from which the English). Latin compounds with bi- in them started entering English in the 13th century, and around the 17c new English words start being coined with the prefix.

English ‘by’ [baɪ̯] comes from Old English [biː], from Proto-Germanic *bi. It has the same origin as be- in words like ‘besides’. The OED relates it to Latin ambi-, Greek amphí- ‘by, near, about’, which trace back to PIE *h₂m̥bʰi ‘around, about’. The unsourced Wiktionary theory relates it instead to Greek epí ‘on, at, near’, which would be from PIE *h₁epi ‘same’.

In either case ‘bi-’ and ‘by’ are clearly unrelated, in both meaning and history. bi- ‘double’ comes from a word related to ‘two’ with a PIE /d/, and by comes from a simplification of some PIE word for ‘at’ or ‘around’ with a medial /bʰ/ or /p/.

  • they never overlapped? Jul 28, 2020 at 14:42
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    nope. distinct words all along. Jul 28, 2020 at 14:48
  • i'm unconvinced by that part, but i'm no etymologist ha Jul 28, 2020 at 14:49
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    @user3293056 They coalesced phonetically, but not semantically. Jul 28, 2020 at 14:56
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    @user3293056 in all languages, there are many words that sound the same. That doesn’t mean they are the same word, or used in the same way. English ‘I’ and ‘eye’, ‘can’ (as in can do) and ‘can’ (as in tin can), ‘lie’ (tell untruths) and ‘lie’ (lie down) are all distinct words that just accidentally sound the same. Jul 28, 2020 at 15:14

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