GUEST POSTING BY KATIE DWYER
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.)
A big thank you to the utterly unbesmirchable Katie for another excellent post. Ed.