Did my lawn mower bescumber my neighbor's fence (transitive), or did it bescumber on my neighbor's fence (intransitive)?

Or should I switch to passive voice and say my neighbor's fence was bescumbered by my lawn mower, and avoid awkward questions?

Indeed, is it possible to avoid awkward questions at all when discussing bescumbering?

I realize to bescumber does not typically involve grass clippings, but I wanted to keep my post reasonably family friendly.

  • You would rather wait a couple of days before accepting an answer, so as to give everyone a chance.
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 8:30
  • Why should a verb be one and not the other? Aren't many verbs?
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 8:35
  • @Kris An answer's having been accepted doesn't prevent new answers from being added. The accepted answer can be changed if a better one is offered. And yes, many verbs can be either / or. If you post an answer expanding your argument, I'll at least upvote it, and will consider accepting it if it's more convincing than tchrist's.
    – rojo
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 11:37
  • 1
    Weird old words are great. But, to the point, if you passivized your statement involving cumbers and such, the preposition would follow. For example, "My dog peed on my neighbor's fence" -> "My neighbor's fence was peed on by my dog". 'Besclumpfer' would behave similarly, with on or without.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:51
  • 1
    I think this is rather a great question, but it would probably be a good idea to mention explicitly in the question itself where you came across the word, and that you do know it’s not exactly common. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 12:40

2 Answers 2


To bescumber, to scumber, scummerings, to discumber

Becumber is normally transitive — or at least, can be.

But you shouldn’t use it in casual, non-dialectal speech unless you’re being deliberately and quaintly archaizing. That’s because neither hide nor hair of the word has been seen in nigh unto four centuries. (Wherever did you find it?)

Here’s the OED’s most recent citation:

  • 1631 Ben Jonson Staple of Newes v. iv. 62 in Wks. II
    Did Blocke bescumber Statutes white suite?

That verb, now marked “Obsolete”, is formed from be- + scumber.

Now, scumber meaning to void (feces) can be both transitive or intransitive. The last intransitive citation of it is from forever ago:

  • 1611 J. Davies in T. Coryate Crudities sig. i3
    And for a Monument to after-commers Their Picture shall continue (though Time scummers Vpon th’ Effigie).
  • 1656 Choyce Drollery 37
    Beware of fire when you scumber.

The transitive citations are much newer, though, ending with:

  • 1819 Keats Letter to Haydon 3 Oct.
    I have not seen the portentous Book which was skummer’d at you just as I left town.
  • 1825 J. Jennings Observations on some of the Dialects in the West of England, particularly Somersetshire 69
    To Skummer, to foul with a dirty liquid, or to daub with soft dirt.

But it too is marked “obsolete exc. dialect.”, so I wouldn’t suggest it.

It turns out that there’s a nice noun scummering, specifically meaning canine excrement, including that of a fox, with a much more recent citation:

1817 J. Mayer Sportsman's Direct. (ed. 2) 203
You may know if it is a good scenting day, by the smoke and strong scent of their scummerings.

Alas, this too is marked “Obsolete”.

But despair not, for your quest shall not have been in vain! The transitive discumber is Not Obsolete, having been spotted within living memory. It means:

  1. trans. To relieve of a burden, impediment, or encumbrance; to disencumber. Frequently with of, from. Now rare.

Here’s a recent citation:

  • 1987 Historia 36 93
    They had discumbered themselves of Hermes Aerios and his keeper.

Congratulations, you get a less scatological version you can use that’s merely rare and not obsolete. Yay?

Ethical Disclosure: No cucumbers were discumbered nor becumbered in the production of this answer, despite the pictured wall-besplattered scummerings’ aroma to the contrary.

  • The time is ripe for a resurrection of the word. I recently read it in "The Way of Kings" by Brandon Sanderson. Unfortunately, the book doesn't provide a proper example of the word, but merely asks, "I say, do you know any words that rhyme with bescumber?" In any case, thank you for your outstanding, well-researched answer. I regret that I have but one upvote to give.
    – rojo
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 2:32
  • 1
    @rojo Then you should certainly submit that citation to the OED. They’ll love it. And the answer to the riddle is of course that discumber rhymes with bescumber. Then again, so does his number.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 2:32
  • 2
    It's a shame people are downvoting this answer. They are certainly not doing so based on its content. The english.stackexchange.com culture is a strange one. Re: submitting the citation to OED, I will once I figure out how.
    – rojo
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:33
  • 1
    @rojo Wit, I presume?
    – terdon
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 14:05
  • @terdon Correct.
    – rojo
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 14:07

Be`scum´ber v. t. 1. To discharge ordure or dung upon.

  • 2
    @tchrist - My point is that the definition (from Websters) says that the word is transitive. This is unambiguous, and the question should be closed due to the OP's failure to do research.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 2:14
  • 1
    If that was your point, ’twould appear you’ve hit the wrong button, for posting an answer no close vote casts. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 2:23
  • 2
    So there is. Did you both close vote and answer, then? Really? Don’t be surprised if someone takes you to task a bit for that one.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 2:29
  • 3
    @Kris tchrist has a valid point. If a question is going to be closed, then why bother posting an answer? And if a question is worthy of an answer, why vote to close it?
    – rojo
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:27
  • 3
    @HotLicks Original content is crucial for an online community to succeed. As long as questions aren't duplicated, new posts shouldn't be discouraged, regardless of their ease of answering. The autistic culture on this site discourages healthy discourse and new user interest, and ought to be re-evaluated. There's a reason StackOverflow has tags with nearly a million watchers, whereas english.stackexchange.com struggles to reach 300 on its busiest tag. Without my poorly researched question, we would never have seen tchrist's outstanding, well-researched and well-organized answer.
    – rojo
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:27

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