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Re: [ID 19991116.002] perl5.005_02: my_setenv() and Term::ReadLine::Gnu

Tom Christiansen
November 19, 1999 12:25
Re: [ID 19991116.002] perl5.005_02: my_setenv() and Term::ReadLine::Gnu
Message ID:
>Could you please explain to a non-native the 'st' suffix meaning ?
[in "unbeknownst"]

Hm... that's a good question.  

Certainly its most common modern usage is as part of the superlative
degree, "-(e)st", as in "least", "worst", "best", or "eldest".

It's also a marker for the preterite when "-ed" has gone to "t".
You'll sometimes see it in words whose infinitives ended in "-ess", as in
"did bless" => "blessed" => "blest".  There are a few of these in the
dictionary, but you don't hear many of them anymore (although without a
vowel shift, your ear wouldn't likely be able to tell the difference).
Like "dreamt", "slept", "spelt", "smelt", "burnt", and many other "ed"
=> "t" endings, these are largely disappearing, some faster than others.
They tend to persist longer as adjectives than as productive verb forms.
You can find a lot of examples of these with "-st" that people never ever
use any more, like "verst" (versed) or "drest" (dressed).  One that is
still used is "past" (passed), but only adjectivally.

Historically, (well, archaically or poetically; same diff :-), the
"-((e)s)t" suffix was also the 2nd person singular (thou) inflection
for verbs, as in "knowest", "thinkest", "runnest", and other similary
examples in the modal auxiliaries, like "canst", "didst", or "shouldst".
Note that this sometimes is spelt (:-)) "-est", other times "-st",
and other times simply "-t", as in "shalt" or "wilt".

But "unbeknownst" would not appear to be of any of those categories, and
there aren't really enough exemplars of its form for me, at least, to draw
many conclusions.  Perhaps it falls into the set of words like "whilst",
"against", "amidst", and "amongst", although I wouldn't want to swear
to that.  I do note, however, that as in other cases where an alternative
is available, these forms are mostly giving way to forms without the
"-st".  Everyone still says "against", and many people everywhere still
say "amongst" (especially when the next word begins with a vowel sound,
as in "amongst others" vs "among friends"), but "amidst" and "whilst"
are seldom heard anymore in the States.

To my ear, the "-st" up in "unbeknownst" lends an certain air of erudition
(sometimes in the dusty and over-the-hill sense) to one's turn of phrase.

--tom Perl Programming lists via nntp and http.
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