Monday, 20 May 2013


Besmirch, Sully, Dirty, Stain, Discolour, Smirch, Blacken,



Verb trans. Late 16th century.
[from BE- + SMIRCH verb, prob. symbolic: compare smite, smudge, smut, etc.]

Dull or discolour, as with smoke or mud;
dim the brightness of; fig. sully (reputation etc.).

This is another of those phonosemantic words I love: if you smirch something, it gets all besmirched.

My favorite definition involves the physical besmirching, as in ‘he returned to find his grandmother’s antique sofa besmirched by muddy dog prints.' But when I think of where I see the word used most, it is in regards to the defiling of one’s reputation, as in ‘she worried that the incident with the chocolate syrup would besmirch her otherwise unimpeachable good name.'

For some reason the word also conjures a kind of childlike delight at the action: canvases besmirched by fingerpaint, faces besmirched by raspberry juice and vanilla ice cream, a new dress besmirched by the inept (and illicit) application of Mommy’s lipstick.  There is something playful in the sound of the word that makes the figurative reputation-soiling definition uncomfortable.

It seems to me that a good smirching would do all of us some good. 

(But then, this is coming from the guest blogger who also advocated phonosemantic ‘fuddling.’  Perhaps I’m just a romantic for funny-sounding be- prefixed words.  I hope we can all agree there are worse things.)

Katie Dwyer
Besmirch, Dirty, Sully, Mark, Stain, Smirch

A big thank you to the utterly unbesmirchable Katie for another excellent post. Ed.


  1. Don't besmirch a blog on words. If you're going to have to besmirch any blogs, besmirch one on sheds, or non-tardy lose-supply.

    1. Here's a blog on sheds - although they all look rather cheap to me. Is that sufficiently besmirched for you? : o )

    2. Ed could you take down my comment as well, or put back the shed comment, otherwise it looks like I'm trying to besmirch Katie, who is, as you say, unbesmirchable, and I don't really want to be accused of besmirchicide.

    3. Oh! Hahahaha! Were you (whoever you are) referring to a spam comment?? Hmm ... you see ... I didn't read that spam comment, and now I can't put it back. But ...

      Let it be known that this anonymous commenter was reprimanding a spam bot for besmirching a blog on words with spam. However, now that said spam has been removed, he or she feels that his or her comment, out of context, could be read as besmirching Katie. Did you not read, though, that Katie said a good smirching would do all of us some good? And anyway, as you rightly pointed out, she's unbesmirchable (also, 'besmirchicide' would not be killing someone by besmirchment but rather the killing of besmirching itself - which would be a good thing).

      Is everything satisfactorily unbesmirched?

      (I've said 'besmirch' too much now - it's starting to look funny)

    4. Thank you both for your exceptional gallantry! Lexicolators united against spam besmirchments.