Etymology of "BB"

I was browsing through my trusty American Heritage dictionary today, and came across the word, “BB.” The definition is a standard lead shot that measures 0.18 inches in diameter. The origin of the word was listed as uncertain.

I recall reading that in the 1840’s a Frenchman by the name of Flobert invented a “bulleted breach” percussion cap (BB Cap), which was a percussion cap into which was fitted a small lead projectile. This was meant to be shot from a gun, and thus became the first metallic firearm cartridge, incidentally of the “rimfire” type.

I do not recall the caliber of Flobert’s bullet, but it was probably of the size to fit into the mouth of then current percussion caps. Probably less than a qurater inch (.25 caliber) I would guess.

As to modern BB’s, they are a bit under 0.18 inches diameter.

My AH Dictionary is from the early 1970’s. Maybe they have updated their etymology.

I always thought that BB was just an abbreviation for ball bearing. Of course, I could be wrong. :slight_smile:

Well, why don’t you just use the search feature and…

What? It doesn’t? Oh.

It appears that the term is from American English. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t originate as you suggest, Neurodoc.

Mathews cites it first in print in 1874 as follows

I’ll leave it up to gun people to discuss shot sizes being labled as B and BB, etc. in the 19th C.

You just have to know what to look for, sam. A couple of earlier threads on the subject:

I read the threads from the SD archives, and I guess that my etymology is correct, and “ball bearing” is not. Thus “BB” comes from Flobert’s “Bulleted Breach” percussion Cap. I don’t know if ball bearings were commonplace, or even existed in 1874. BB caps had been around by then for 30 years…

Someone should contact the egg-head etymologists and let them know that another etymological “mystery” has been solved by one of Cecil’s teeming millions…