verbs beginning with "be"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by suzi br, Apr 8, 2008.

  1. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    Hi folks, back again .. asking for help / discussion

    Bemoaning ... this cropped up a poem I was reading the other day and made me think: is there a story behind this "be" prefix?

    We can just moan, or we can bemoan. Is there a difference? I can see from the free etymology dictioanary that this is an Old English word.. is it just that we LOST the "be" bit over time?
    It still hangs around a bit in old texts and poems (in this case the scansion and alliteration were helped by the extra "be").

    Thinking of other verbs starting with "be":
    besmirch - you can't smirch, can you?
    bemuse - muse on its own means something different.
    becalm - hmm thinking now ... is it something to do with transirive and intransitive?
  2. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    My immediate reaction to this is that "bemoan" can take a direct object, whereas "moan" cannot:

    We can bemoan the inadequacy of the public transport network. :tick:
    We can moan the inadequacy ....... :cross:
  3. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    I cant remember the exact quotation now, but I think it was the "wind bemoaning" (from the Ancient Mariner)
  4. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    There is indeed a considerable story behind the prefix be-! The Oxford English Dictionary has an interesting, and quite long, article on it. Suzi, you can access the dictionary on-line by typing your library card number here. -
  5. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Befuddle. There's another one. It seems to add a kind of ... no, start again ... it seems to kind of augment the verb it's added to: becalm sounds (erm) bigger than calm. (If I remember, I'll have a think about it. Or read that OED thing.)
  6. Kevman Senior Member

    Phoenix, Arizona
    USA English
    I can't access that OED site:(, but perhaps our "be-" is a sister of the German "be-" prefix, which supposedly arose from the preposition bei, meaning roughly "with" or "at."
    My Duden grammar of German (1966, pp.407-08) notes that it can get added to nouns, adjectives and other verbs with the following effects:

    Nouns: the resulting verb typically has an "ornative" meaning, that is, a 'decorated' or 'allocative' sense. The German text gives the example of something like clothing -> beclothe*, which makes a pretty rotten example in English, but maybe words like besiege arose over time from this origin.
    (I vote for bemoaning as also being of this variety.)

    Adjectives: the resulting verbs are generally "factitive." They have a sense of the quality of the adjective being imposed on something. I think becalm is probably an example of this.

    Other verbs: mostly take on a "perfective" meaning. I think they might have originally given a verb a more 'paster-tense' or more completed sort of meaning. The German example given that I think might translate best into English is deck -> bedeck** (as in "cover," like "deck the halls"). Also befall likely originated from the German in this way.

    Obviously English has undergone a good bit of development since it branched off from German, and you'll probably have a tough time trying to crowbar very many English words into these exact categories, but you wanted a story about its origin, so there's mine! :)

    * Ger.: bekleiden
    ** Ger.: bedecken
  7. cycloneviv

    cycloneviv Senior Member

    Perth, Western Australia
    English - Australia
    According to the WR dictionary, we can indeed "smirch". Sounds pretty odd to me too, suzi!
  8. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England

    ooh - how frustrating -- this is not a service I subscribe to ...
  9. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    This reminds me of an exchange with a PE teacher, (over 35 years ago!!)

    PE teacher: Stop smirking.
    Me: I'm not smirking.
    PE teacher: You DO smirk

    (we all laughed cos the construction sounded silly as she said it .. )
  10. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    thanks kevman!
  11. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    For those who don't have access to OED, has collected an informative group of citiations on be- from various sources.

    My favorite is from the Online Etymology Dictionary:
    be- [traces etymology ....] Be- can also be privative (cf. behead), causative, or have just about any sense required. The prefix was productive 16c.-17c. in forming useful words, many of which have not survived, e.g. bethwack "to thrash soundly" (1555), betongue "to assail in speech, to scold" (1639).​

    (I am under the impression that the OED is accessible if you have a library card for almost any library in England, but I may have misunderstood.)
  12. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    hi - thanks for that -- lovely examples

    re library card access
    well I don't know, but I don't use a public library these days ... I will immediately go and re-join if it will give me free access to the OED, I'd love it, but always thought it very expensive ..
  13. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    woooooo it seems you are right, cagey!!!

    That is the best best news I've had in a long time ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

    **thank-you thank-you thank-you**

    <skipping madly around the room - spinning cagey about until we're both completely dizzy>
  14. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Ah, that explains that sudden dizzy spell.

    You are entirely welcome.

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