50 Words with the Most Whimsical Prefix

By Mark Nichol

The prefix be- has a variety of interesting roles in language:

Causation
The prefix is affixed to a verb to indicate a causative agent, as in belittle, meaning “to diminish by criticism or mockery.”

Creation
Become and begin, and the archaic-sounding beget, are words starting with the prefix that indicate something coming to be; the prefix also appears in words expressing the near opposite, such as behead.

Intensification
It’s one thing to be dazzled by a luminous object, but a reference to being bedazzled implies a higher order of enchantment.

Position
Be- indicates relative placement, as in below or between.

Its addition to a word transforms nouns and adjectives into verbs, as in besiege and beware (“be aware”). It also changes intransitive verbs (those that do not take an object) into transitive ones, as with becalm.

The simple act of attaching these two letters to an existing word enhances English by providing us with terms that entertain us with their vivid imagery. Here are some more or less obscure be- words and their definitions:

becloud: to obscure or muddle
bedaub: to excessively ornament or anoint
bedazzle: to enchant
bedeck: to fancily clothe or decorate
bedevil: to annoy
bedew: to moisten
bedight: to equip or adorn
bedim: to obscure, or to reduce light
bedizen: to adorn or dress in a tacky manner
bedraggle: to drench
befit: to be appropriate for
befool: to delude or trick
begrime: to make dirty
begrudge: to give reluctantly
beguile: to seduce
behoove: to be appropriate
bejewel: to adorn with jewelry
belabor: to emphasize unnecessarily
belaud: to fulsomely praise
belay: to stop or hold off from
beleaguer: to trouble or bother
belie: to falsely imply, to reveal something as false, or to contradict
bemire: to expose to or engulf in mud
bemock: to ridicule
benight: overcome by literal or figurative darkness
benumb: to deprive of sensation
bepuzzle: to confuse
bequeath: to leave an inheritance (the noun form is bequest)
bereave: to deprive (one so treated is bereft)
beseech: to beg (the past tense is besought)
beseem: to be fitting or suitable
beset: to attack, harass, or surround
besmear: to stain or obscure, or to defame
besmirch: see besmear
besort: to fit or become (also a noun meaning “appropriate associate”)
besot: to infatuate or muddle
besoul: to endow with a soul
bespatter: to splash
bespeak: to claim, request, address, or identify
besprinkle: to scatter or disperse
bestir: to rouse
bestow: to put to use or in place, or to convey a gift
bestrew: see besprinkle
betake: to commit, or cause to act
bethink: to recall, or to cause to consider
betroth: to promise to marry, or to give in marriage
bewhisker: to provide with whiskers (or, as bewhiskered, to have whiskers)
bewhore: to corrupt sexually, or to characterize as a whore
bewig: to place a wig on
bewray: to betray

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11 Responses to “50 Words with the Most Whimsical Prefix”

  • Stephanie

    So bedauber, bedecker, bedighter, bedizener, and bejeweler are all better names for the bedazzler than “bedazzler.”

  • Deborah H

    Stephanie wins!

  • AnWulf

    Great list: … bedew is more to sprinkle or cover with drops of water … like dew.

    Behoove … it is a duty or responsibility for someone to do something; it is incumbent on: It would behoove you to learn these words! …
    … And the noun is behoof – benefit, advantage … To make laws for the behoof of the nation.

    Bestir also means to make an effort, exert.

    Behead doesn’t express an opposite. One meaning of “to head” is “lop off the upper part or branches of (a plant or tree).” (OED) … Thus, the be- is an intensifier!

    A few more that I like:
    beclap(p) – to trap suddenly
    bedoven (adj) – past part. of archaic bedive … means drenched or drowned … He was bedoven with sweat.
    befog – cause to become confused: Her brain was befogged by a lack of sleep.
    befoul – to pollute
    befuddle, bewilder, befog, bemaze – to confuse
    behest – to command, order (also a noun)
    behold – to observe
    belate – to delay
    belike (adv) – with considerable certainty; without much doubt; also probably, perhaps
    bemoan, bewail – to complain
    bename – to declare, asseverate
    benim – to deprive, rob … benom, benomen (from benomen, you get benumb)
    benothing – to annihilate, destroy
    benote – to use
    beshrew – deprave
    bespeak – suggest, indicate, denote, request
    beseige – begird, beleaguer, beset!
    beteld (really old) – to cover (from teld = tent) beteld, betild, betolden
    bethink – meditate, think on, ponder (also umthink)
    betied – to occur, to happen
    betoken – to indicate, denote
    bewreak, bewreke … to avenge, revenge
    bewrite – describe, write about
    bewry – to cover
    umbeset – to surround … also umbelap.

  • AnWulf

    Oops … I just noticed a typo … that should be betide – to occur, happen.

  • AnWulf

    I forgot beslobber … to cover with gushing kisses … hence also to “kiss up to” with fulsome praise.

    befriend … a verb that Facebook needs to know … one doesn’t “friend” someone, one befriends someone.

    bewitch … maybe this one was so common as to left off the list?

  • Mark MacKay

    Bedazzle – hasn’t the meaning changed? A “bedazzled” sweatshirt is NOT in any way enchanting.

  • evath

    Mark,
    Bedazzled is used as a brand name for a product that attaches jewel-tone stones to fabrics (for clothing, handbags, etc.) Bedazzle, in my experience, still means to dazzle to enchantment.

    But doesn’t behest mean at the request of… and not command? or has “command” become archaic and obsolete with the fall of monarchies?

  • AnWulf

    @evath … Behest can also mean “request” … often it can mean either depending on context:

    Here are byspels from the OED:

    They had assembled at his behest.

    The slaughter of the male children at the behest of Herod.

  • AnWulf

    Genesis 41:14 WYC (Wycliffe)
    Anon at the behest of the king, they polled Joseph. (Forthwith at the king’s command, they shaved Joseph)

  • AnWulf

    I wonder if a guy is bestubbled before he is bewhiskered? (Spell check didn’t underline bestubbled!). I’m definitly bestubbled. If I don’t shave soon, I’ll be bewhiskered.

    Here is another be- word:

    beken
    To make known; reveal, admit, confess.
    To deliver.
    To commit or commend to the care of.
    To commit.
    To admit as possessor.
    To acquaint; instruct.

  • AnWulf

    More be- words:

    beknow – to realize, be aware of, know, recognize, understand, acknowledge, own, confess
    byspel: I went bolt into his dressing-room, not beknowing he was in it

    bestead – adj. – placed, situated, located;
    verb. – replaced, take the place of, to place (in peril), help, profit, avail

    unbeknown(st) – without the knowledge of, unknown to

    unbespeak – to cancel, to annul, to unsay: withdraw, retract

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