Bleach can lead to temporary baldness if overused, but few people know that the connection between the two words is much stronger from an etymological perspective. The word bald came from Middle English ballede, which traces back to Old English and the word bala, or "white patch". This came from the Celtic bal, which meant "fire"; the transition occurred because of how shiny bald people's heads get; this in turn can be traced through Proto-Germanic balo "flame" and has the origin of the Proto-Indo-European word bhel, meaning "light" or "bright" (the qualities of a flame). Though Bhel is an etymon of a myriad of words like beluga, blitzkrieg, and blush, in this post it is most important in one of the paths it took into Proto-Germanic: that of blaikjan, or "to make white". Blaikjan disintegrated along with the tongue of the time, but squirmed its way into the dialect of Old English speakers as blaecan, "to whiten". This became Middle English bleche and eventually our word bleach, showing that not only does a cause and effect relationship exist between bleach and baldness, but an etymological one does too.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd