Printable Version
Pronunciation: bi-taimz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adverb

Meaning: 1. Early, on time, in good time. 2. Occasionally, once in a while. 3. Quickly, as soon as possible.

Notes: Today's is a word teetering on the brink of extinction; let's help pull it back from that fate. It is a lovely if odd word. It is a lexical orphan because adverbs seldom have lexical progeny.

In Play: The first sense of this word might be read in a sentence like this: "Hooker Bass didn't like to take Carl fishing with him because Carl couldn't get out of bed betimes." The second sense pops up in old folk songs in expressions like this: "Aiken Hart betimes sings a song or two." The third sense is illustrated here: "Everyone at the party wished Throckmorton would leave betimes."

Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a combination of be + times, with the adverbial function of the -s suffix also found on adverbs like outdoors and upstairs. The Old English pronoun-prefix be today is by. It is cousin to Dutch bij and German bei "at, in", and came from PIE bhi- 'around', a reduction of ambhi- "on both sides". When time replaced tide for the meaning "time" in the 19th century, it shifted in today's word as well. Betide was an old verb meaning "to happen, occur", so the original meaning of betimes was "as happens". Time and tide are assumed the result of a form (di-) of PIE da- "to divide, split" with different suffixes, di-mon- and di-ti. The remnants of the former are visible in Swedish timme "hour" and English time. The latter went on to become German Zeit "time", Norwegian tid "time", Dutch tijd "time", and English tide. (Now let's betimes thank Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira doubly for his longtime service as an editor of this series and for finding today's curious Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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