Printable Version
Pronunciation: be-gêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) A mendicant, a poor person who begs for food or money. 2. (Noun) Someone to be pitied. 3. (Verb) To reduce to poverty, to impoverish, as 'wages that beggar employees'. 4. (Verb) To exceed the limits, exhaust the means, go beyond, outdo, as 'a cathedral whose beauty beggars description'.

Notes: Look out for the A in the suffix: beg : beggar. Like liar it is a personal noun derived with an -ar suffix, a reduction of the pejorative -ard. This word has a large lexical family. The state of a beggar has been called beggary and beggarhood. The life of all beggars is beggardom. Adjectives include beggarly and beggarish, both of which mean "like a beggar".

In Play: Let's focus of the verbal senses of this word. The first sense may be used like this: "The middle class has been beggared over the past half century by the economic policies of several administrations." The second sense is the more interesting: "His buildings beggar belief in an architect's creativity."

Word History: We have two theories of the origin of today's Good Word. One explains the A in the "suffix". This theory claims that the origin is Old French begart "a member of the Beghards", a low-country mendicant order known for rattling off prayers. They borrowed their name from Middle Dutch beggaert "mendicant". No one knows where the Middle Dutch word came from. The other theory is that it was a clipping of Medieval Latin beguina, referring to a mendicant order of nuns also operating in the low countries. This theory is supported by the fact that early on the word was spelled begger. Their name came from Lambert le Bègue "Lambert the Stammerer", a priest that was involved in the founding of the order. Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" refers to a popular dance in the Caribbean islands. This beguine came from French béguin "sweetheart", originally "nun's headdress", a word sharing the same origin.

Dr. Goodword,

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