• bespeak •
Pronunciation: bee-speek • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To be a sign of, to reflect or express; to foretell, portend. 2. To ask for or request, as to bespeak a favor of someone.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a native word with few if any relatives. Someone who bespeaks is a bespeaker, a requester, and you can use the gerund, bespeaking, as a noun and adjective. Like speak, it is a strong verb; its past tense is bespoke and its past participle bespoken. The past tense form, bespoke, is also used idiomatically by some in the sense of "made-to-order", as a bespoke article (written to order) or a bespoke tailor, who custom fits clothing.
In Play: Today's Good Word bears a bit of the burnish of age but is not at all archaic. It might help you veer from a collision course with your boss some day by impressing her with your vocabulary: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but the furrows on your brow would seem to bespeak a measure of discontent." Since this word indicates the sign of something itself not visible, it often is used to refer to the future: "Believe me, the board's forcible retirement of the president bespeaks greater changes to come."
Word History: Today's word descended from Old English besprecan "to call out, complain about" through Middle English bispeken to what it is today. It is clearly akin to German sprechen "to speak" and Sprache "speech" even though it lost an R somewhere along the way. It is not the only English word to lose an R after a P. A dialectal variant of prong was prang. This word, too, lost its R to become what a prong causes when you back into one. The prefix be- (also by) comes from the same PIE word that became amphi in Greek and ambi "around" in Latin. It assumed several forms and functions in English. Attached to intransitive verbs like speak, it converted them into transitive ones like bespeak. (Today's Good Word well bespeaks the generosity of Peggy Nielsen in sharing her favorite words with us. Thank you, Peggy.)
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The past tense form, bespoke, is also used idiomatically by some in the sense of "made-to-order", as a bespoke article (written to order) or a bespoke tailor, who custom fits clothing.
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