Monday, October 19, 2009

Bespoke Blogging

I was having a conversation the other day--conversation is the best word I can think of to apply to twittering (tweeting?) back and forth with someone--when my twitter partner used a word I knew the meaning of from studying older versions of English but had never heard used in modern English: bespoke.

bespoke [past of BESPEAK]
adjective [attributive] chiefly British
(of goods, especially clothing) made to order: a bespoke suit.
(of a trader) making such goods: bespoke tailors.
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'?"

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 PetrĂ© 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?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Do you beseech that we learn to bespeak so that our language becomes beset with archaic Anglicisms?

  3. Only if you are so bemoved to become behooved by such a mission...

  4. I bemoan my bemusement of this, but I feel beholden to bequeath bespeakment unto others so as to befuddle them with the beguiling nature of the behemoth that is the English Language.

    Okay, I cheated with behemoth.

  5. How in the world did you get so many 'be-' words in that sentence? That's be-awesome. See, I couldn't even get one real be-word in there, so I had to make one up (which I did through PREFIXING--a little study bit for your test tomorrow...).