Printable Version
Pronunciation: bê-nait Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To darken, to shroud in darkness or night. 2. To obscure or make difficult to see. 3. To overcome with intellectual, social, or moral degeneration.

Notes: Although today's Good Word didn't find its way into print much in the 20th century, it can still be found in the more prominent dictionaries. When I first heard it, I thought the intent was for some word beknight, but this sense is expressed without the be-, as 'to be knighted'. Though no longer active, the prefix here appears on many English verbs with the sense of "to provide with, to cause", such as bejewel, becloud, and befuddle.

In Play: Benight originally meant to cover with darkness: "After working all day repairing the electrical outlet, when Homer plugged in the new robotic vacuum cleaner, he benighted the entire house." When it is used today, however, the darkness is usually figurative, not literal: "The company is in bankruptcy today because long ago it was benighted by a management lacking any spark of creativity or forward thinking."

Word History: This elderly Good Word is composed of the even more elderly prefix be- "provide with, cause" + night. Night was niht in Old English, inherited from Proto-Indo-European neg- "be night, be dark", which went on to become Latin niger "black". Since Gs and Ks are almost identical, the noun root for the word emerged as nok-t, whose progeny can be found in most Indo-Eupean languages such as Greek nux [nuk(t)s], Geman Nacht, French nuit, Portuguese noite, Russian noč', Spanish noche, and Italian notte. The Romance language words come from Latin nox, noctis, which underlies nocturne and nocturnal. (Let's thank Colin Burt here for suggesting today's Good Word lest we benight our chances of receiving more from him in the future.)

Dr. Goodword,

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