Etymology Notes: "Blessed"

carljweber carljweber at MSN.COM
Sun Dec 30 21:54:59 UTC 2001

Etymology Notes: "Blessed"

Carl Jeffrey Weber


The expression "blessed terrorism" came up in the news regarding Bin Laden's
third videotape. The newscaster used the two-syllable form of the "blessed"
word and put the main accent on TER-. "Bles-sed TER-or-is'm." If the accent
is: "BLES-sed terroris'm," or "BLES-sed TERroris'm" makes a difference. It
came off natural the way she said it. (It's the way you say "Blessed Virgin"
that makes it mean blest or blessed or damned.)


Lisa Wittenberg wrote

<<<Blessed as a verb is /blEst/
Blessed as an adjective is /blEs ed/

Are there other examples of this process?

Perhaps, "blest" is OE spelling, but the pronunciation would persist with
the regular preterit spelling. Can anyone comment on the adjective
pronunciation? Is it an emphatic usage started in the church (Blessed
Virgin) that has become accepted? or is there another story here? >>>

[Douglas Wilson points out that the adjective is EITHER way.]

Here are other examples of this process, with the number of syllables

"The spilt milk."   vs    "The spilled milk" (spilled is one syllable).

"Spilt" forefronts the fact of  having been spilled, the result continuing;

"Spilled" forefronts the continuing result, the act assumed and in the

Another example of two adjectival uses made from the same past participle,
with no need to add a syllable: spelt/spelled (spelled is one syllable). "A
properly spelt word."  vs  "A properly spelled word."

The voiced consonant "l" at the ends of "spill" and "spell" allows the
addition of either preterit marker ("-t" or "-d") to make the distinction in
meaning here pointed out. In the following, notice the (voiced) nasal giving
the same phenomenon with "burnt" and "burned" -- no extra syllable needed.
One meaning emphasized the act, the other the continuing result.


"Blest" (one syllable) forefronts the fact of the act (of having been
blessed), the result of the act continuing.

"Bless-ed" (two syllables), forefronts the continuing result, the act
assumed (and in the background, as having had occurred). Obviously, the way
you say the phrase makes it swearing in a bad sense or swearing in a good
sense. (Swear like a sailor on his way to hell or a penitent sinner at the
gates of St. Peter.).

The unvoiced ending of "bless", the word under discussion, requires the
addition of another syllable for what Doug called the "stretched version".
The same with "curst" and "curs-ed". Two syllables.

Another, "proved/proven", is on a Norman root (although "prooft" is not
historically uncommon). Another, from the Roman era of loan words into
Britanniae before English officially started, "spent" and "expended".

Others are the "gilt lily" and "the gild (or gilded) lily"; "I beg ya'
darlin', on my bent knee... on bended knee."

There seem to be a limited number of phonemic possibilities in basic Old
English: (-lt and -ld), (-st and -sed), (-nt and -nd). The distiction in
meaning is apparent between "stripe shirt" (with a lost! preterit marker)
and "strip-ped bass". One has perfective and the other durative qualities.
What is this phenomenon called?

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