Bewuther

This beautiful word is a Tolkien back-formation from a rare spelling of the obsolete verb “whither”: to make a blustering sound or rage about in the manner of the wind.  “Be-whither” – surround with confusing sounds and rush of energy – becomes “bewuthered”.  Magnificent!  Thanks to Alert Reader Grace who pointed out “Wuthering Heights” to the good of this entry!

“Bewuther” comes just as Gandalf raps on Bilbo’s door in Chapter 1 to introduce the last dwarves and incidentally obscure the mark he had made previously on that door.

[01.048] Bilbo rushed along the passage, very angry, and altogether bewildered and bewuthered – this was the most awkward Wednesday he ever remembered.

Not only are we just getting to know our prosaic little protagonist, but he’s having an awkward Wednesday.  We’re thoroughly in the Children’s Story mode where things are more funny than scary.  Tolkien plays with the sounds of the words because he’s telling the story out loud.  He has invented a word which we absolutely understand as much because of its form as its context.  “Be-” suggests that the feeling of bewutherment is an intense one.  The W sound alliterates with “bewildered”, allowing us to assume that “wuthering” has as much to do with being lost as “wildering”.

  • 01.048 and bewuthered –

“ˈwhither, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 9 May 2015.

Bewitch

“Bewitch” uses “be-” in its meaning as an intensifier of verbs, to thoroughly witch something.

  • 06.030 Gandalf had made a special study of bewitchments with fire
  • 13.039 more clear of the bewitchment of the hoard

“bewitch, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 6 May 2015.

Betray

Only Bilbo’s gift of the Arkenstone to Bard earns the word “betray”.  In this word, be- is an intensifier added to the obsolete verb “tray” – to trouble, vex, or afflict.  It took two thirds of the book for Bilbo to grow into someone close and trusted enough for his actions to be betrayal.

  • 16.032 Are you betraying your friends,
  • 17.019 I am betrayed,’

“betray, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 6 May 2015.

Beset

“Beset” is the causative verb for “besit”.  The “be-” prefix is only traced to its general sense of “about”.  I am delighted to realize, however, that if I set something down, I cause it to sit.  This word falls off in use after 1850 (Google Ngram Viewer), but is not yet archaic in the meaning for which Tolkien uses it.

  • 16.005 they are not likely to overcome the host that besets you;

“beset, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.

Besiege

“Besiege” uses the first meaning of “be-“, to surround physically.  Surround the enemy, block the flow of food in to them, and wait for surrender.

  • 15.058 I declare the Mountain besieged.
  • 15.059 and being besieged inside it was not at all to his taste.
  • 17.034 so that the besiegers
  • 17.038 of the besiegers

“besiege, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.

Benight

“Benight” uses be- in its capacity as a Maker of Verbs with the sense of surround.

  • 06.026 so that they often caught people benighted near their gates.

The derivative adjective “benighted”carries the metaphorical connotation of having been morally corrupted.  Tolkien uses it here, however, in its old meaning.  Goblins caught travellers who had become surrounded by night.  The OED tells us that this meaning is obsolete, although we find it perfectly understandable.

“benighted, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.

Behold

Our present sense of “see” for behold has lost a bit of beauty.  “Behold” uses the “be-” meaning of “around”, and in its early years “behold” was definitely all about holding something around its middle or throat or other hold-able part.  From holding on or retaining something, the meaning moved to holding an idea firmly in one’s mind and considering it.  From thence to “observe” in the mind or with the eyes, and now our usual use.

  • 01.059 and behold!
  • 13.048 and behold!
  • 15.015 Behold! the birds are gathering
  • 17.041 Behold! the bats are above his army

“behold, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.