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Though there is no widely accepted etymology for the word beach, one suggestion is that it derives from bleach, as OED suggests in a possibility without evidence.

Another conjecture would derive beach < bleach < Old English blǽce, < blác white, with loss of l, of which there is however no evidence.

The idea here is that a beach contains sand and pebbles that are bleached white by the sun.

The earliest definitions of "bleach" are related to whiteness, not to the chemical associated with the term today:

†1. Whiteness, paleness. Obs.

1400 Pol. Rel. & L. Poems (1866) 255 Brest & hert was bete to bleche.

The more mainstream suggestion regarding "beach" is openly available on etymonline:

1530s, "loose, water-worn pebbles of the seashore," probably from a dialectal survival of Old English bece, bece "stream," from Proto-Germanic *bakiz. Extended to loose, pebbly shores (1590s), and in dialect around Sussex and Kent beach still has the meaning "pebbles worn by the waves." French grève shows the same evolution.

I tried to find other sources of the suggestion that "beach" shares an etymological relationship with "bleach." It is mentioned on Word Detective:

As for the origin of “beach,” theories range from the Old Norse “bakki” (“bank,” as of a stream) to the Old English “baece” (stream) to “beach” being a mutation of “bleach” (as stones are bleached by the sun and water).

I haven't been able to find much more about the question in my own research.

So the question(s):

  1. Is there any evidence linking the word "beach" with "bleach?"
  2. If not, what is the origin of this suggestion?
  3. If there is evidence pointing to an alternative explanation, what is the evidence?
  • 2
    One point I will offer is that the Italian bianca (girl's name) and Mandarin bai (bai fun is white rice) both mean white with no 'l' there. – Yosef Baskin Jun 19 '17 at 3:50
  • 1
    @Lawrence Modern Chinese languages have lost all initial consonant clusters, but Old Chinese almost certainly did have them. 白 bái is generally reconstructed as having initial *br, though, and it's not related anyway. In Italian, of course, all instances of /Cl/ became /Cj/, so blancum > bianca is regular there. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 19 '17 at 7:25
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    @HotLicks The fact that the concept is essential doesn't mean that the word isn't new. Semantic shift can occur even in very common and essential vocabulary. Words for ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, for example, have a striking tendency to be fairly recent words (often borrowings) that have replaced earlier words. Both words are only from around the 13th century in English, for instance, though the concept of boys and girls is of course much older. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 19 '17 at 7:30
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    @YosefBaskin Italian has lost a large number of L sounds: flower is Latin flora but fiori in Italian. Floor is piano but again Latin has pl-. That the Italian for white is bianca is indicative that there should/used to be an L in there. – Andrew Leach Jun 19 '17 at 11:36
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    @HotLicks it seems to me to have the same purpose as any question about etymology. The site is, after all, specifically for "for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts." I think the question is interesting, and it seems to have at least sparked some conversation. – RaceYouAnytime Jun 19 '17 at 22:58
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Short answer: Most likely not.

Longer answer: A negative is usually more difficult to support than a positive. To say there is absolutely no connection between 'bleach' and 'beach' we'd have to know ... everything... and then scan 'everything' for support of the positive and have good reason to say that the support for each of them doesn't work. As that is not really possible we can only give likelihoods, things like in similar circumstances there was no connection. There are all sorts of single instances of phenomena in language that are not rule based, but rules (common patterns) are more common than the single exceptions (there's an argument that needs to be made for that but let's not go so quickly down that rabbit hole).

Here are two situations that are similar:

  • Phonetically, there is no regular alternation or sound change in English or in between word initial 'bl' and 'b'. In English there is no post-plosive liquid drop rule from proto-Germanic, it just doesn't happen. In other languages, Latin -> Italian has 'bl' -> 'bi', but the 'l' is not lost it is more changed to 'i'. (there is a bit of chicken-egg here because these rules must be found by having words of similar meaning sharing lots of similar phonology; but if you throw all the words in together before knowing the rule, a bunch of them would stick together and 'beach/bleach' would be an outlier.

  • Semantically, things are a lot more fluid. Word meanings can travel far. 'Black' and 'blue' are actually cognate with 'bleach' (flipping between light and dark colors). So it is not crazy to think that 'beach' is a 'bleached seashore purely by color association. It's just that the known etymologies don't show any evidence for their connection.

So to your 3 questions:

  1. No, there is no evidence beyond someone just saying so.
  2. We have no idea where that author got their idea (beyond the obvious similarity in spelling)
  3. There is no evidence
  • 3
    This might be another outlier, what about the etymology of bat: flying mouse-like mammal (order Chiroptera), 1570s, a dialectal alteration of Middle English bakke (early 14c.), which is probably related to Old Swedish natbakka, Old Danish nathbakkæ "night bat," and Old Norse leðrblaka "bat," literally "leather flapper," from Proto-Germanic blak-, from PIE root *bhlag- "to strike" (see flagellum)... – RaceYouAnytime Jun 21 '17 at 13:32
  • nice find. but yes, looks like an outsider (and also still a questionable derivation) – Mitch Jun 21 '17 at 13:39
1

Looking at the first usages in the OED, we see that most of them mean pebbles, and the first one might easily mean pebbles.

1535: The smooth hard beach on the Sea~shoares burnes to a purer white.

1552: A Banke of baches throwen up by the Se.

1566: Wee haled your barke ouer a barre of beach or peeble stones.

1597 J. Gerard Herball ii. 249 Rowling pebble stones, which those that dwell neere the sea do call Bayche.

And Shakespeare seems to use it to mean the seashore, although twice it specifically means sections of the seashore that are covered by pebbles:

Coriolanus: Then let the pebbles on the hungry beach Fillip the stars;

Cymbeline ... can distinguish 'twixt The fiery orbs above and the twinn'd stones Upon the number'd beach?

So it seems to have originally meant beach pebbles, and later came to mean pebbled beaches, and from there it evolved to its current meaning of sandy or pebbled beaches.

So the real question is: did beach pebbles start getting called beaches because they were white, or because they came from streams, or for some other reason? One subquestion then is: are British beach pebbles white? Some of them are, and some of them aren't. I don't think we can conclude anything definitively one way or the other.

  • 2
    though the 1535 use may support the bleach theory – Colin Jun 22 '17 at 7:03
0

In many languages, the "ba" sound is in words that represent heat. For example. "bake". Beach could likely come from a word like this, even "bake" (in the sun).

I highly doubt that it comes from "bleach". I know no roots that have had, historically, an "L" added to them.

  • The "bleach" etymology involves the word losing an "l", not having an "l" added to it. – sumelic Jun 22 '17 at 23:42
  • You know what I meant. I meant loss of an "L". – bob Jun 23 '17 at 0:55
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bæce in old English

Pronounced as beace with a hard c

Then some influence in spelling when the ae was lost in the language, corrected it the ea. The ce with a similar sound to ch was replaced

-3

In many languages, the word for "beach" is something like "plazh"; for example,

Bosnian: plaža  Catalan: platja  Czech: pláž  
Polish: plaża   Romanian: plajă  Spanish: playa  

However, in Maltese, it is "bajja". Malta is in the Mediterranean, and several African languages also have "beach". This leads me to think that the English "beach" came from the Maltese "bajja". Or, it might have come from one of the other African countries (during the American colonization at the beginning of slavery).

Source: https://www.indifferentlanguages.com/words/beach

  • The African languages that use the word "beach" were ex-British colonies, so this proves nothing. As for Malta, also an ex-British colony which gained independence in 1964, you need to trace the origin of bajja and find out its pronunciation. But I strongly, strongly doubt that beach is a Maltese loanword, it seems most unlikely. – Mari-Lou A Jun 22 '17 at 6:55
  • and how, pray tell, would a maltese loan word make its way into old english? – Colin Jun 22 '17 at 6:56
  • -1 because the pronunciation of bajja, which might have lent some support to your theory, is totally and utterly unrelated to the English pronunciation. See forvo.com/word/mt/bajja, it sounds much closer to "bay", which in Italian is baia – Mari-Lou A Jun 22 '17 at 7:05
  • And abjad is Maltese for "white". There's 30 minutes lost which I'll never regain ... – Mari-Lou A Jun 22 '17 at 7:08

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