I’m not bragging when I say I read voraciously. Ever since I discovered reading as a child, it has been one of my absolute favorite pastimes. My personal library attests to this as does my activity on Goodreads. Reading has added a few words to my vocabulary that I didn’t think were all that unusual, but apparently they are. One such word is unbeknownst. I don’t use it all the time and I’m certainly not trying to sound haughty when I do. It appears a few commentators do not agree with me.
Today’s The Weight of Words is in honor of unbeknownst, a humble adjective usually used with ‘to’ that simply means happening or existing without the knowledge of a specified person or persons.
Unbeknownst to my mother, my brother and I are planning a surprise birthday party for her seventy-fifth birthday complete with a cruise to Hawaii as a present.
According to one site I checked, the first known use of unbeknownst was in 1626, so yes, it probably does sound a little archaic. But that doesn’t render the word useless or worthy of exclusion from the English language. I used it recently in a blog post which prompted this post in turn!
Unbeknownst derives from beknown, an obsolete synonym of known. Unbeknownst has widespread usage, including appearances in the works of Charles Dickens, A.E. Housman, and E.B. White, yet despite its candid history, unbeknownst has caused a ruckus among usage commentators. It has been called everything from “obsolete” to “vulgar.”
I’ll continue to use the word, especially since it still crops up in new writing, and unbeknownst to those who have no idea what it means, I shall talk over their lazy, empty heads. Okay, now that did sound a titch haughty.