When did “Beware” Become a Noun?

By Maeve Maddox

In modern usage, beware is an uninflected verb meaning “to be cautious or wary.” Its most common use is as a verb in the imperative:

Beware of the dog. or Beware the dog.
Beware of scams.
Workers beware!
Beware your girlfriend when he’s around!

No noun form for beware appears in either the OED or the Merriam-Webster Unabridged. Nevertheless, all over the web a plural noun form “bewares” occurs in titles and in headlines:

‘bewares’ For Bettors

Bewares and Background Check

Bewares of Copper Domination

Internet Freebie Bewares & How to Deal with them

Bible Bewares

Some writers are also giving the verb a long-obsolete third person inflection:

Indian army bewares its men of Facebook, Orkut

He meets enemies he bewares of.

Whether sorrowful or sassy, the poems in this new collection bear McHugh’s signature: a lively love for the very language she bewares.

She bewares her Suitors’ parents that she has even danced in bachelors’ parties.

But she bewares of telling all of it for the sake of the public

I found one headline example in which the imperative seems to have had an s added to it:

Bewares the pitfalls of property development

Writers looking for a high class synonym for the word warning, can always use caveat [kăv’ē-ät’, kä’vē-ăt’) ]. Originally a legal term, in general usage caveat has the meaning of “warning”:

Audit Finds $300 Million Surplus but Issues Caveat on School Finances

MacAddict issues CD-ROM caveat

DSi Wi-Fi Caveats and Issues

EPA Issues Caveat Emptor on H1N1 Disinfectants

NOTE: The Latin expression caveat emptor means “let the buyer beware.”

Depending upon context, here are some alternatives to consider before using “beware” as a noun:

admonition
advisory
alarm
alert
caution
censure
clause
condition
deterrent
forecast
notice
notification
omen
portent
provision
proviso
qualification
red flag
rider
signal
stipulation

Of course, there’s always good old warning.

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6 Responses to “When did “Beware” Become a Noun?”

  • G

    I wonder if this usage could possibily have grown out of the adverb “unawares?”

  • Maeve

    I think that “beware” is being used in the way that people use “begat” when talking about “the begats”* in the Bible. They know it’s a verb, but they’re using it as a noun. In my opinion, it doesn’t work. But that’s just my opinion.

    *And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech. Gen. 4:18.

  • Evelyn

    Good question. I’ve been oblivious to it actually. Now that you mention it, caveat has had its share of morphing. It seems to have become a word to replace the little notation that means “insert” — I think that’s because people don’t know what it means. They assign a definition based on context and then it sticks. 🙂

    Bewares is almost an urban language thing, isn’t it?

  • Ann

    I can’t believe how ugly the examples are. Don’t people understand that language is beautiful? Guess I’m old-fashioned and well taught. I hear the music and know when something doesn’t sound quite right.

    And the more these ugly phrases get published, the more likely they are to enter the language. Yuk!

  • Peter

    In my opinion, it doesn’t work. But that’s just my opinion.

    No it isn’t

  • Cecily

    @Maeve: I agree that “beware” and “begat” as a nouns sound ugly and are unnecessary, but “Bewares the pitfalls” and maybe “Bewares of Copper Domination” are surely just typos.

    @Evelyn: I haven’t come across the misuse of “caveat”, but I presume it arises from a mishearing or misreading of “caret”.

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