To be or not to be and how ‘to be’–
Regarding the subject of everyday language and different dialect of English, this is a good place to consider the verb ‘to be’, a subject that gets as contentious as it does vague. What do am, is, are, was, were, have been, and will have been have to do with being? Why do some people say “I be, you be, he be, her be, they be, we be.”
The Runic Beorc, which stands for the English letter B, also stands for ‘new beginnings on a higher organic level’. This means ‘to be’ or ‘to exist’ as in “In the beginning there [be] was…” Beorc is also connected with the Ogham tree alphabet, the Hebrew ‘Beth’, and the Latin. In English, ‘b’ is spelled ‘be’ and is both the verb ‘to be’ as well as a prefix ‘be-‘, and a noun ‘a being’. The verb to be is a source of confusion and irritation. One of the irritants is the conjugation of the verb. What is it all about, this irregularity of am, is, was, were, have been, and how do they relate to ‘be’? The converse irritant is ‘Why can’t people learn the proper way to conjugate this verb instead of “I be, you be, we be, “etc.?’
I found an interesting answer in an entry for usages of the verb ‘to be’. “The verb ‘to be’ is unchanged in all its tenses in most of the provincial dialects. “I be very hungry,” etc.” The text is in a compilation of word usages and variations in spoken and written English, circa 1850, “from Northumberland to Cornwall”, as the author defines the territories polled. While it was published in 1850, and reflects usages of that time and prior written usage, it indicates that “I be, you be” were once the speech standard among most of the English speakers. The “Dictionary of Archaic Words” gives five entries under usages for the verb ‘to be’, the above being number three. It goes on…
Be- (1) By (AS.) Occasionally time is understood “Be we part” By the time that we part. This prefix is common in early writers, and is still in use in the north country dialects.
(2) Been The past participle occurring in this form in Chaucer and Robert Gloucester
(3) The verb to be is unchanged in all its tenses in most of the provincial dialects. “I be very hungry,” &c
(4) A common prefix to verbs generally conveying an intensative power, becharme, bedare, befool, befogged
(5) A jewel, ring, or bracelet A.S.
In “Origins…”, the short etymological dictionary of Eric Partridge, he gives nine categories for the use of the prefix ‘be-‘. The following are an abstraction from his list of be- as a prefix:
– The first four are ‘intensives connoting’ about, around, over, on both or all sides, thoroughly, repeatedly or violently, overmuch, excessively;
-five is ‘causative’ (from adjectives or from nouns) as becalm or bedunce;
-six is ‘approximately or predominently causative’ with the connotation “to affect with, treat or provide with, cover with,” also “frequently funny, ironic or sarcastic e.g. bemusk,befrock, beplumed”;
-seven is ‘privative’ connoting removal or departure and deriving from either verbs or from nouns thus: bereave, beglide, behead;
-eight is ‘denominative’ (from nouns occasionally from adjectives) to name, call, style, as in belady, bewhore, belord, berogue; bestupid, befunny;
-nine is ‘transitive’ (from verbs) connoting a prepositional relationship between verb and object, the preposition being usually against, at, by, for, on, over, to, with (as in beshout) beshine (shine on or upon) besigh (sigh for or over) bemire (cover with mire) betide (happen to) becross (decorate with a cross, make the sign of a cross over).
The Oxford etymological dictionary weighs in with the verb ‘be’ as “The ‘substantive’ and ‘copulative’ verb expressing (i) simple existence, and (ii) existence in a defined state (whence its use with participles as an auxiliary of tense and voice).” It goes on to trace the way we conjugate the verb by noting the similarity in the sounds across many Indo-European languages. The prefix ‘be-‘ is described as a “weak variant of bi- BY, varying in cognate compounds with bi-.” The prefix be- is categorized pretty much as Partridge does so I won’t repeat the usages.
Suffice it to say: ‘Be’, the “substantive and copulative verb” which is also used as a prefix, has the job of uniting words and clauses and forming words and groups of words into those that are the equal of nouns. I believe we can fairly conclude that B, BE- or BEORC, in whatever alphabetic or ideographic (runic) configuration it appears, is still all about new beginnings. BE is we the people creating words that express our thoughts about relationships (using be as by) and states of being (using be as be). We are very aware, very conscious of our existence and we are commenting on all existence, both simple and defined states of existence.
This is functional English or, English the Vulgate and is a continuation of the process extant when we were writing Runes instead of alphabet. Among the compound words in this book is a section of words using BE as a prefix and sometimes as a root. While the dictionaries will indicate that some of these words are archaic or obsolete, that is ultimately our decision and not that of the dictionary, “The writer of a dictionary is a historian not a lawgiver.” “We can be guided by the historical record but we cannot be bound by it.” What this means to us is that we can use all of these great words which have fallen out of common usage. It also means that we are free to compose useful new words which follow this classic and eminently useful pattern. While life is now longer than it once was and is not as fragile, it is no less wonderful and no less worthy of mention and of celebration through language.
Since the “Oxford…” text indicates that several I.E. languages use words with sounds that resemble those we currently use to conjugate the verb ‘to be’, it seems the right time to address the possible origins. Since the words are made of similar sounds they likely have similar ideas within them. I suggest evaluating them from a runic perspective to see what meaning is represented and whether it ‘rings true’ or ‘squares’ with the meaning that we see.
So what if it does? This is a powerful and important possibility. If the hypothetical Indo-European language is a precursor of many modern English words and if those same words can be identifiied with Runic symbols, then quite possibly English and I.E. have ideographic parentage. This would provide a strong visual image of what our forbears meant by the sounds and symbols which they produced.
“To be or not to be…?” is a question we all will have to answer, so what is be-ing?
I am A =AC M=MAN A=promising potential, powerful growth and continued unfailing support
M=’symbolic embodiment of the social order’. AM as a bindrune would probably come closest to the words ‘integrity’ and ‘intelligence’. Translated into contemporary word use “I am” would mean “I’m together and I think” not just, “I exist”.
I be could be analyzed two ways: Beorc and Beorc/Ehwaz. Beorc is rebirth.= I exist; Ehwaz is literally ‘a horse’ also symbolizes ‘brotherhood, sisterhood, twins, close relationship, including that with one’s horse’ and also signifies ‘movement is necessary for any task of life’. Until we get to possessing a horse, this sounds like what was called a ‘churl’ in that society. It could still be a churl if he works with the horse rather than rides it like a knight would. A churl is a loutish fellow, a sort of beast of burden whose job was strictly to labor. To me this sounds like distinctions are being made between classes of people. Truth be told, we do have functional classes of people and animals. The problems rise with how we classify, regardless of who or what we classify. Distinctions can be based on degrees of social refinement, on willingness to strive to function within the social order by accepting the customs and social mores of the group.
Having written that last paragraph, and thereby posted the image on my inner ‘screen’, I am better able to see what I’m thinking and saying. I won’t edit out that bit of ugliness because it depicts something that needs illustration. Use of the word ‘churl’ leaves an image of a low-class lout. The word ‘lout’, declined runically, would be a man existing on the outer fringes of the social order. That is a twisted value judgement. ‘I be‘ could also be ‘existing on a simpler, more elemental level’, so I declined the word ‘churl’. Having analyzed the digraph ‘CH’ as KEN-HAGEL and the sense element -url as an expression of fluid or changing group energy, I can see that a churl may be lower class; but, he sounds to me like an admirable specimen of humanity, a real mensch, the very ‘salt of the earth’. To ‘just be’ is not a bad thing. To be ‘lower’ is not to be less worthy. To follow the tree metaphor of the ancestors is to recognize that the value of a tree does not lie in how tall it grows but in how usefull it is, how it lives and benefits, how it balances NYD/GYFU, need and giving.
He, she, and it is IS= ‘ the principle of static existance, of inertia and entropy’. IS is under the rulership of the Norn (fate), Vernandi, the present ‘that which is eternally becoming’. He, she, and it are all singular. This would mean that the solitary existance does not progress. In short, all life benefits from functioning within the vitality of groups. This interpretation of is, the present tense of the verb to be, elaborates on ‘be’ and also expresses an observation about mankind in a solitary state.
we, they are ARE = a bindrune, Ac/Rad/Ehwaz equals ‘promising potential, transformative energy, brotherhood’. This sounds like a description of living and working together and getting things done. Another possible decoding route is the rune UR. There are alternative pronounciations in the different English dialects, sometimes with two syllables. When we contract the words to we’re and they’re, we are likely likely saying UR which is the rune of collective human power. If we were to say, “They be” and “We be”, the fact of theirexistence would be stated but there would be no reference to the value and purpose of a cooperative relationship among these beings.
we, they were This looks another type of compound with the rune WYN (W) before the sense element ‘ere’. ‘Ere’ is the element in ‘here’ and ‘there’ which stands for a time/place relationship as in, ‘Ere we part, let’s be sure we understand each other.’ ‘WYN’‘, in short, is ‘fellowship, shared aims, and general well-being’,often shortened to joy and harmony, understandably. ‘Ere’, is like ‘before’ in that a sense of both place and time is suggested. This carries the sense that from one time and place to another, both time and place change. Again, we could say “We be” or “They be” and all we would know is that all of us exist. ‘Were’, interpreted runically, establishes a human relationship within the time/place relationship. Were is past tense of the verb ‘to be’ and Urd is the Wyrd of the Past, the second of the Weird Sisters, the Norns of the Northern Tradition.
From relationships between individuals to relationships between and among towns and cities.
Are these just more coincidences? Having mentioned UR the rune of ‘collective human power’, let’s look at some words that reference larger groups of people. Some Anglo Saxon words which we still use for towns and cities are burg, burgh, borough [AS. burh, burg. a fortified town, a fortified place; from beorgan, to protect] pp.211, 242 These words for towns and cities differ in that they expressly designate ‘fortified’ living spaces. They don’t specify what type of fortifications, just that they do have them. Considering that ‘GH’ is part of the name is an indicator that the protections may derive from the attitudes of the people. However, if people no longer understand the significance of ‘GH’, they cannot be expected to abide by that agreement. While this isn’t part of the verb ‘to be’ or an example of the prefix be-, this is another application of the rune, BEORC. Living with others is a very common and successful way of be-ing, sharing services, products, labor and safety by living in a town or city. We use the words berg, burg, and burgh to refer to towns and cities. The term ‘borough’ is also used to refer to a political division, another way of living and working together and of protecting oneselves.
Burg, berg, burgh, and borough have much in common when decoded runically. The benefits seem to accrue as the town’s organization grows. B is for BEORC, signifying new beginnings on a higher organic level. U is UR primal power which in humans is a collective power to be used for the common good. R is RAD and represents transformation of spirit, energy and matter. G is GYFU gift or giving, and GH is EOH which represents continuity and endurance. Life within a community has the potential to be of a higher organic level, a gift of personal and mutual success, change, and new beginnings through the collective power of community. We now call it “urban” and “suburban” living which is a Latinization of English. The main difference being that the Latin, like the Romans, puts the emphasis on the buildings while the English focuses on the human factors. ‘Borough’ contains the element ‘ough’ which expresses a contained and directed human energy. This does not report on what collective human power is. There is always the possibility that this difference in focus comes from my way of reading the puzzle of language. I would hope that someone would notice my error and report it to me, if that is the case. I did notice that several sources say that ‘berg’ is the word for ‘hill’ or ‘mountain’ in some Germanic languages. It is also the word for a floating ‘hill’ of ice. Runically, this is still a mound of energy. These words for towns are still our ancestors’ view of what our potential is when we live and work with one another cooperatively.
This collective human power (community) is the other end of the spectrum from the first person personal pronoun ( I ). The symbolic value of ‘I’ is the icicle. To remain in the frozen state it needs the energy to stay frozen. This would be a powerful image in an area where the winters are long and cold. Alone, ‘I ‘ represents entropy and stagnation. A modern update of the symbolism of ‘ I ‘ would be the ‘zero’ (which looks like the letter ‘O’ so I will write it as ‘zero’. ‘Zero’, like ‘I’ has place value. In all expressions of numerical values, the placement of the zero determines its’ value. Whenever we say or write ‘I’ we are giving that symbol the value which we place on our name and on our word. The value potential of representing our name is sufficient justification for our linguistic custom of continuing to capitalize the letter when some experts call the practice archaic, unnecessary or pretentious. Capitalizing a symbol that represents our name is a tribute to our ‘word of honor’ which is addressed under ‘WR-‘ and ‘Hagal’
Beorc, and how this works in compound words, and how it fails miserably.
Be- was once commonly used as a prefix in compound words. There is no reason why we can not continue to use these words. I suspect their use has declined because we have become so sensitized to criticism and outright hostility regarding the use of the verb, to ‘be’. The only be- word commonly used is, unfortunately, ‘because’. I suspect it is in common use because it heralds the answer to a question. Who among us does not take pleasure in having the answer to a question?
‘Because’ is one of those words which we made and it, in turn, made us. This one little word has done more damage to thought processes than a truck load of eighty proof liquor. I cringe every time I hear my mouth say ‘because’……….because I must stop and think about whether or not ’cause’ has anything to do with it. The problem with “because” is that it often makes an incorrect causal relationship between events and relationships where causation is not involved. I have been called on that error several times when I spontaneously said ‘because’ instead of ‘as’ or some other appropriate word.
Mental image time:
Webster’s p.288 excerpt [L. causa a cause or reason] “3. a person or thing, acting voluntarily or involuntarily as the agent that brings about an effect or result; as, a woman was the cause of his downfall.” I did not have to struggle to find an example as they are so ubiquitous that they fall into ones’ lap, like acorns in autumn. I cringe because I will undoubtedly hear some sloppy thinking or some lame excuse fall from my own lips. I rarely criticize anyone for this as I am too busy cleaning up my own errors. The only time that I am less tolerant of others than of myself is when I hear this from a professional in a field, and the word results in damaging misinformation.
Judith: Stop for now and consider this later. 12-01-2010
Beorc blends: They do occur and, so far, they have consistently had the same sense
“The Dictionary of Archaic Words” Halliwell, James Orchard, Published 1850 p.153 These entries are abbreviated. I omitted his many examples of usage as well as his many references. The bare facts remain.
See the Poetic Eddas for the significance of rings and other ornaments and jewels as repositories of magical power. e.g. Ring of the Niebelung. This provides some insight into our tribal histories of considering BE as ‘causative’ JOH
“Origins…” Eric Partridge p. 824
Oxford…Etymology, Onions, et.al. p.81,82
Webster’s Unabridged p.1817, Substantive is from the Latin meaning ‘self-existent’ and, in grammar, refers to “any word or group of words used as an equivalent for a noun”
op. cit. p. 404, Copulative, like copulate, comes from the Latin copulare, to unite, couple, and in grammar means “involving or comprising connected words or clauses”.
“The writing of a dictionary, therefore, is not a task of setting up authoritative statements about the true meanings of words, but a task of recording, to the best of one’s ability, what various words have meant to authors in the distant or immediate past.”…”The writer of a dictionary is a historian not a lawgiver.” “We can be guided by the historical record but we cannot be bound by it.” “Language in Thought and Action” 2nd edition p.56 S. I. Hayakawa
“Hamlet” Act 3, Scene 1 ‘The Yale Shakespeare’, published in 1917, places “Shakepeare” in its proper place as mythic history and uses language respectfully, that is, not dumbed down to what is perceived as the ‘lower class of people’. This reference is to “Hamlet’s Soliloquy” which is a brilliant analysis of be-ing , an alternative view to seeing everything and all circumstances as be-cause of something or other.
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