“They used a hyphen in wake up, the verb!” Margot exclaimed. “How do they propose to spell wake him up, then? As wake hyphen him hyphen up?”
Daryl rolled his eyes and looked around the coffee shop to see if other eyes were turning yet. “Happy Friday afternoon,” he said, raising his latte in mock toast.
“Come on,” Margot protested. “These things matter.”
“You are more apt than most people to begroan other people’s usage,” Daryl said.
Margot’s eyes popped wide. “It would be very apt to bemoan your use of a non-word!”
“Moan, groan… how do you know begroan’s not a word?” Daryl said. He had pulled out his iPad and was tapping away at it.
“You meant bemoan,” Margot said.
“If I’d meant bemoan I would have said bemoan,” Daryl said with a flicker of a fake smile.
“Come, now,” I said, “can’t we be groan-ups? He used it, you understood it, it’s a word.”
“A word you won’t find in any dictionary,” Margot said.
“That may be,” Daryl muttered, continuing to manipulate his iPad, “or that may not be. …A-ha!” He turned his iPad to Margot. It displayed the be-, prefix entry from the Oxford English Dictionary, scrolled to show “begroan v. to groan at” with a citation from 1837. Margot was nonplussed, or should I say bemused. “Pity there’s no entry for be-hatch,” Daryl said, “’cause I done be-hatched this on you, be-hatch!” He made the sort of hip-hop-style hand gesture that cretins from “reality TV” shows are fond of.
I took the iPad from him and started scrolling through the very long entry. “Boy, someone’s been busy as a bee with all the be’s.”
“But it doesn’t even make sense,” Margot protested, gesturing to the list. “I mean, a lot of these words have nothing to do with being something. When you think of become, that’s ‘come to be’, right? And bemoaning is to be moaning, and bejewelled is to be with jewels, and so on.”
“I think you’ll have to leave that one by,” I said. “The prefix be- is not from the verb be, it’s from the preposition by. So adding be can add the sense of ‘about’, ‘around’, or ‘throughout’; from that it took on a broader use as an intensifier, and also came to signify result – as in bedimmed – or object bestowed – as in bewigged – or an instrumental relation, as in bewitch.” I started idly humming the tune from the TV show Bewitched as I continued to scroll.
“Oh, would you bequiet… yourself?” Margot grumbled.
“Perhaps you could becalm… yourself,” I replied with a little smirk, and launched into another musical snippet: “Let it be, let it be…”
“Behave,” Margot said.
“I’m being as have as I can,” I said, giggling. Margot leaned over to look at what was in my cup.
“Perhaps,” said Daryl, “you could bestow my iPad upon me, so I can be stowing it in my bag.”
“Here you be,” I said, handing it over. I turned to Margot, lifting my cup. “I only wish I were beliquored.”
“You can’t be telling me that’s a word,” Margot said.
Daryl lifted an index finger and scrolled quickly on the page. “Ah… yep. ‘Beliquor, verb, to soak with liquor, to alcoholize.'”
Margot slouched back in her chair and threw her hands up. “I’m beleaguered.” She reached for her coffee and slugged the rest of it back.
Here is a small sampling of the frankly enormous list of words included under the OED’s be- entry:
I would like to thank my lovely wife, Aina Arro, for using the word begroan today, inspiring this note.