I wanted to write a fun post today about language. This is not my typical Sunday or Wednesday edition, so we can call this a special edition post, just for your edification.
I enjoy language. I enjoy watching it evolve. It does evolve in real time and across generations. We have obvious examples of words that exist now that didn’t exist forty or fifty years ago. Many of these have to do with the advent of the technologies we use on a daily basis. I’m sure you even use some of them yourself.
I remember getting my first text message. It was around 2002 or 2003. I had no idea what it was. I had to ask for help because my phone ‘had a message’ I couldn’t retrieve. With that, the idea of a ‘text’ message changed the definition of text for me from a passage in book or periodical to include the idea of an electronic message sent via cellular phone.
While we all have examples of words we’ve incorporated into our lexicon because of newer technologies, I want to spend the remainder of this brief post talking about a very unusual word. That word is unbeknownst. What is fascinating to me about this word is that it is an irregular negative of a word that doesn’t exist. That nonexistent word would be beknownst, if it did exist.
For those who do not know, unbeknownst means something that happened without your knowledge. For example, unbeknownst to me, my wife was planning on buying a new chair for our living room for the last few weeks. I didn’t know she was planning to do so until two nights ago. Last night, we went and bought said chair.
The flipside of this word, or its affirmative use, is an obsolete word, beknown. The word beknown also has another negative that is, itself, obsolete. It is unbeknown. In our modern lexicon, we would simply say known or unknown. Still, you can find unbeknownst in a dictionary; and it is not considered incorrect to use it in your everyday speech, though most people might not know what you’re saying when you do.
My dad and I use this word. We use it when we are texting one another. It’s humorous for us. And it demonstrates to me yet another way the English language is alive and constantly evolving. As always, this has been the World According to Chris.