Is “bescumber” transitive or intransitive?



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.


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.

Source : Link , Question Author : rojo , Answer Author : tchrist

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