bespoke [past of BESPEAK]My first thought when I saw it used in my twitter conversation was, "What a great word!" My second thought was, "Why don't we use it more often?" After looking in my handy Mac Dictionary, I saw the small, yet important, usage note: chiefly British. That told me I live on the wrong side of the pond to have heard bespoke used in everyday conversation. Once that mystery was solved, my next thought was, "How did that word come to mean 'made to order'?"
adjective [attributive] chiefly British
(of goods, especially clothing) made to order: a bespoke suit.
(of a trader) making such goods: bespoke tailors.
Originally, the word comes from the Old English bisprecan, which meant 'speak up' or 'speak out.' The prefix in the word, be-, is still seen in modern forms like bejeweled, bewitched, unbeknownst (notice all forms are past participles). It is a great little prefix that doesn't receive half the credit it's due; in fact, I never really paid much attention to it until my graduate adviser, Laura Michaelis-Cummings, lectured on its applications and situations where it can or cannot be used. If you're interested in learning more about the be- prefix, check out the entry for it on the Affixes website; for a more technical discussion of the prefix, check out Petré and Cuyckens (2008). Going back to the word as a whole, the word bisprecan underwent some semantic changes, later resulting in the meaning 'discuss' or 'decide on.' It is the latter of those ('decide on') that led to the extension of the meaning to 'arrange' or 'order' (and, thus, to the modern usage). Semantic change in action--how could that not make your Monday morning more exciting?
So, who is with me in saying that this needs to become an American term, too? Anyone?