Bespoke: Verb? Adjective? Everyday Word?

www.RuthlessEditor.comYou know as well as I do that English can be an odd — and challenging — language. You’ve probably seen lists of “weird English“: words whose meanings are convoluted from what we might expect:

We take English for granted. But if we export its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham?

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? Is cheese the plural of choose?

One mouse, two mice. One louse, two lice. One house, two hice?

Yes, English indeed is a weird language, and it’s no doubt hard to learn for those not raised in an English-speaking household.

The word that sent me down this rabbit hole (from Alice in Wonderland, implying a bizarre or difficult state or situation): bespoke

I’ve begun to notice that it’s popping up here and there. Why should bespoke stand out? I don’t consider it an everyday word, and it has meanings that don’t follow semantic logic:

be: The verb to be means to exist; to occur or take place.

Bespoke can be the past tense of the verb bespeak: to suggest or be evidence of. 

In her business and personal interactions, her actions bespoke professionalism.

He wrote and talked in a way that bespoke intelligence.

The brothers glared at each other, conveying a relationship that bespoke animosity.

One source noted that bespoke is rarely used in everyday English. However, it might be found in formal English or used to convey an impression of age.

What I find confusing is that bespoke also can be an adjective meaning custom-made, made to order, made to a customer’s specifications. As such, it seems unrelated to the first examples.

The bespoke suit fit him like a glove.

He promoted himself as a bespoke tailor.

The bespoke software she created perfectly meets our company’s needs.

If you love words and language — or if you’re a ruthless editor — you probably should know about bespoke.

But will it become part of your everyday writing and speaking? Let me know!

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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4 thoughts on “Bespoke: Verb? Adjective? Everyday Word?

  1. Glenyce

    In my opinion “bespoke” is only used when the writer is trying to make his writing more important sounding. It does not add to the clarity of a statement in any way. Maybe if one is writing an old English scene in a novel it would be an appropriate choice but I think it has no place in modern English (especially in America).

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Glenyce, I share your view that choices for using bespoke are limited. Your mention of a scene in a novel about England in the days of yore is spot on! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Charles Myhill

    Bespoke is a word I’d forgotten, well, not exactly forgotten, but a word I have certainly not used for quite some time. Now it’ll pop up all over the place.

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