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I’ve just read an article in The Huffington Post in which the phrase “bemustached 26-year-old” was used:

Sex and sword swallowing beg some pretty obvious comparisons, but the similarities aren’t as clear-cut as you might think, at least according to professional sword swallower Brett Loudermilk.

The flowing-haired, bemustached 26-year-old sat down with HuffPost Weird News to chat about this history of sword swallowing, making a living as a sideshow performer, and exactly how you get something so long and hard down your throat.

While I’m very much aware of the function of the prefix be‑ in words like bespectacled, bejeweled, and bedimpled, I can’t find the word bemustached in Merriam-Webster. Mustached, on the other hand, is entered in the dictionary.

Question: Would you say “mustached 26-year-old” or “bemustached 26-year-old”? Isn’t bemustached rather tongue-in-cheek? Thanks a lot.

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    I thought 'mustachioed' was the accepted wording. 'mustached' sounds like a better reasonable new word. 'bemustached' is being silly, following 'bespoke' a recently rejuvenated word. – Mitch Mar 29 '15 at 16:12
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    My instinct was "mustachioed" also - I wonder if this is still used... – Oldbag Mar 29 '15 at 16:20
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    In general be- verbs can be traced back through Germanic roots to a thing prepared to be and now completely in a state. Over the years their meaning has often drifted and it's now not semantically separable. Like @Mitch said, the writer is being silly. – Dan Sheppard Mar 29 '15 at 16:22
  • Louel, please perform an online search of the word and see if you still have a question. Also, your question is not clear: "Would you use ...?" could be asking for a range of personal preferences/subjective opinions, or possibly whether it's a standard, recognized word. – Jim Reynolds Mar 29 '15 at 16:24
  • But isn't mustachio a very large mustache? Maybe being mustached/bemustached doesn't have to imply his mustache is humongous. @Oldbag – Louel Mar 29 '15 at 16:26
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I think you are right that this word was meant to draw attention to itself. It amuses. The entire article is quite tongue-in-cheek — or even sword-in-cheek. Or perhaps even something-else-in-cheek, given how it starts and ends:

Sex and sword swallowing beg some pretty obvious comparisons . . . and exactly how you get something so long and hard down your throat.

Those bookends set a clear tone here. We know what is being suggested.

No dictionary contains all words — nor ever shall nor can. There are many, many different reasons for this. You probably didn’t find flowing-haired in a dictionary either. But because it is created using a productive suffix, everyone knows what it means.

There is no verb involved here, neither to flowing hair not to mustache. The ‑ed suffix can turn both verbs and nouns into adjectives. Think of it as two difference suffixes. This is not a past participle.

Obviously bemustached is an English word, since it was used in English and everyone recognizes what it means. Everyone would similarly know what a bepimpled teen-aged face is, even if you cannot find that word in this or that dictionary.

The construction be- + XXX + ‑ed is a productive way to create new adjectives in English. According to Oxford Dictionaries Online, sense 5 of the be‑ prefix is:

(Forming adjectives ending in ‑ed) having; covered with: bejewelled

So the fellow “has” a mustache, or even is covered with one.

The Dictionary has a lot of these beXXXed words, but not all coinages are befated to be found in a dictionary. Since this construction is productive, anybody can produce new ones of these whenever they please. It might catch the reader’s eye, or the listener’s ear, but this is not a bad thing. Surely this is what the article’s author intended.

Here are some from the OED:

  • beblubbered
  • becalmed
  • beclogged
  • beclouded
  • becrossed
  • becurled
  • bedabbled
  • bedangled
  • bedarkened
  • bedaubed
  • bedazed
  • bedazzled
  • bedecked
  • bedevilled
  • bedimmed
  • bedizened
  • bedogged
  • bedraggled
  • bedressed
  • bedusted
  • bedwarfed
  • befeathered
  • befogged
  • befooled
  • befringed
  • befrogged
  • begilded
  • begirdled
  • begodded
  • begored
  • begrimed
  • begrudged
  • beguarded
  • beguiled
  • behanged
  • bejaded
  • bejewelled
  • belaced
  • belauded
  • beleaguered
  • belighted
  • beliked
  • bemangled
  • bemasked
  • bemazed
  • bemired
  • bemocked
  • bemoistened
  • bemudded
  • bemuddled
  • bemuffled
  • benighted
  • benumbed
  • bepatched
  • bepearled
  • bepitched
  • beplastered
  • beplumed
  • bepowdered
  • bepraised
  • bepuffed
  • bepuzzled
  • besainted
  • bescattered
  • bescrawled
  • bescribbled
  • beshadowed
  • besilvered
  • beslaved
  • beslavered
  • besmeared
  • besmirched
  • besmoked
  • besmottered
  • besmutted
  • besnowed
  • besoiled
  • bespangled
  • bespattered
  • bespeckled
  • bespectacled
  • bespelled
  • besplashed
  • bespotted
  • besprinkled
  • bestained
  • bestarred
  • bestormed
  • bestreaked
  • bestriped
  • bestudded
  • betailed
  • betasselled
  • betattered
  • bethumbed
  • bethumped
  • betimbered
  • betitled
  • betoiled
  • betossed
  • betrampled
  • bewandered
  • beweltered
  • bewigged
  • bewrapped
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    I am left bewildered and bemused by many of these befuddled concoctions. – Mari-Lou A Mar 29 '15 at 16:53
  • @Mari-LouA I’m especially intrigued by bedwarfed (perhaps from an invasion of dwarves) and befrogged (perhaps from a Biblical plague). Can one also therefore be betrolled and belocusted? Pretty sure one could. :) – tchrist Mar 29 '15 at 17:01
  • +1 But I'm slightly disappointed that you don't know what befrogged means. It's not spanghewing towards a jacket although that might work. – Frank Mar 29 '15 at 19:20
  • @Frank But surely the idea that a Biblical plague of frogs raining down upon someone has somehow made them “befrogged” is a more amusing interpretation than the common sense, don’t you think? :) – tchrist Mar 29 '15 at 20:25
  • The 'frognado' as it were, would indeed bedwarf the toggle makers art. – Frank Mar 29 '15 at 20:43
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It seems like a joke on the once common "bewhiskered". It is funnier if you are aware that "bewhiskered" does not only have a literal meaning, but can mean old, out of date, hoary. Note that it's a 26-year-old that's "bemustached".

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The English prefix be- was of course once productive; in some related languages such as German it still is to some extent. As the existence of the word bespectacled shows, the time when be- became unproductive in English wasn't even so long ago. As a result, when you treat it as productive today you will still be understood; you will also get an archaic and/or comical effect.

In addition, non-native speakers and excessive readers of old literature may have the mistaken impression that be- is still productive, or if they don't, might decide to treat it as if it were -- as an idiosyncrasy.

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  • No: be- is still productive. There are simply too many examples of beXXXed to forbid creating more of them by analogy. – tchrist Mar 29 '15 at 16:41
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    Please define excessive as in “excessive readers”. Then please defined old as in “old literature”. :) Could you please point to a date after which productivity became forbidden? – tchrist Mar 29 '15 at 16:48
  • I do personally believe that be-Xed is dated, quaint, and harks back to a more "begenteeled" society. (begenteeled, a word that does not exist, nor ever will but it should) :) – Mari-Lou A Mar 29 '15 at 17:10
  • @tchrist: So you wouldn't say the use of "bemustached" here was tongue-in-cheek? – Louel Mar 29 '15 at 17:10
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    @Louel Yes. The fellow in question seems to wear a Salvador Dalisque moustache. A very old fashioned style. – Mari-Lou A Mar 29 '15 at 17:30

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