Printable Version
Pronunciation: bi-speek Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To foretell, predict, to be a sign of. 2. To request, to order in advance, or to reserve or book.

Notes: Today's Good Word, just like the verb that it is derived from, speak, is a strong verb with an anomalous conjugation: bespeak, bespoke, bespoken. Although it may reek a bit of days long past, the word is still alive in English and enjoys being used, by and large correctly. The past tense of this verb has a rather unusual use. It can mean "tailor-made" or "selling only tailor-made clothes", as a bespoke suit or a bespoke tailor—even a bespoke tailor shop.

In Play: This word comes in very handy when clues are examined: "The scowl on the boss's face bespeaks bad news." In addition, we are free to use it for requests of any kind: "If I could bespeak a favor of you: please stop using the word bespeak when talking to me. Thanks." How about this: "The book is checked out of the library, but I have bespoken it and will get it as soon as it is returned."

Word History: This Good Word is clearly made up of the (purely!) English prefix be- "about, around" + speak. The prefix went on to accumulate several other meanings before we stopped using it to produce new words. Still, traces of the original meaning usually hover around the remaining verbs it adorns. To bemoan a fact is to moan about it, to beset with problems is to surround someone with them, and to bespeak a problem is to speak about it in a specific way. The related German word for "speak", sprechen, shows that English lost an R somewhere along the way. The root underlying the Germanic verb kept the R in Latin spargere "to strew, scatter", the word that underlies the English borrowing sparse. (The suggestion of today's Good Word bespeaks the fertile vocabularies of Peggy Nielsen and Jeremy Busch, for which I bespeak the gratitude of all those reading this.)

Dr. Goodword,

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