Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Bespoke \bih-SPOHK\ , adjective;
1. Made to individual order; custom made
2. Of the making or selling of such clothes
3. Archaic: Engaged to be married; spoken for

According to
This word, meaning "custom or custom-made, made to order" of goods as opposed to ready-made, dates to 1755 and is a variation on bespoken, which dates to the 1600's. Bespoken is the past participle of bespeak ("to speak for, to arrange beforehand") which dates to the 1580's.
The Oxford English Dictionary's etymology for bespeak is sort of confusing, but basically it has Germanic origins and its relatives in Old English, Old Saxon, Modern Dutch, Old High German, and  Middle High and Modern German are bi/besprecan, bisprecan, bespreken, bisprehhan, and besprechen respectively. Sprecan (later specan) is the predecessor of speak in Modern English.

For non-grammophiles out there, lets talk about past participles. These often come up in etymologies for various reasons, and they are confusing. Basically a participle is a word that can behave as a verb or an adjective (and sometimes an adverb). There are all kinds of different participles in various languages, but in English we have two: present and past.
Present participles are also called active, imperfect, or progressive participles and are identical in form to the gerund*.
Past participles are also called passive or perfect participles and are usually identical in form to the past tense (irregular verbs are, well, irregular).

I believe the best way to learn grammar rules is with examples, so take the verb eat:
  • I eat eggs daily. (present tense)
  • I ate eggs this morning. (simple past tense)
  • I have eaten eggs before. (past participle - verb form)
  • I gave my half eaten eggs to my dog. (past participle - adjective form)
  • My dog was eating eggs when I left for work. (present participle - verb form)
  • An eating dog might bite. (present participle - adjective form)
It gets more complicated when you look at whether the participles convey an active sense (e.g. our fallen comrades) or passive sense (e.g. the attached files) and they can modify nouns or sentences (e.g. Seen from a plane, our cars appear tiny). However, the basics of participles are relatively straightforward.

*A gerund is a verb that becomes a noun by adding -ing, as in "Reading is fun."

*Today's word and the first definition were both taken from's 'Word of the Day' for Wednesday, December 8

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