Printable Version
Pronunciation: bi-set Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. Attack from all sides, assail from all angles; to surround. 2. Pester, annoy, harass a lot. 3. To set with decorations, stud as with jewels.

Notes: Today we have a beautiful word teetering on the edge of oblivion; we use it today mostly in written English. The Oxford Dictionary has found only one example of besetter "someone who besets", but besetment "surrounded" is represented by several quotations. This verb remains the same throughout the conjugation except for the present participle, besetting.

In Play: Problems and difficulties are usually the things that beset us: "The only question in the US today is which political party besets America with more problems." The third sense is the least often heard: "Monica loves to walk early in the morning when the blades of the grass are beset with glistening jewels of dew."

Word History: Today's Good word is obviously a combination of be- "about, around, on all sides" + set "to make sit (still)". Be- was originally by. In its new form with the new meaning "completely, all over" we find it also in bespatter, bedazzle, bedew. Set has cousins in all Germanic languages like Dutch zetten, German setzen, Icelandic sitja, and Swedish sätta. It comes from PIE set-/sod- "to sit", source also of Armenian nstim "I sit", Greek hedra "seat", Latin sedere "to sit", Lithuanian sėdėti "to sit", Latvian sēdēt "to sit", and Russian sedu "I sit down". Of course we have thousands of derivations from this word, words like settle, saddle, situation, Russian sad "garden", and cathedral from Greek kathedra "chair", from kata "down" + hedra "seat". (Now let's thank Tony Bowden of London, who also contributed a collection of original limericks years ago, for rescuing today's lovely Good Word for Good Word subscribers.)

Dr. Goodword,

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