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Words, Dec. 23

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Bejeepers, becreepers, where'd you get those bepeepers:

"Those things scare the bejabbers out of American business. I have never in 38 years seen businesses of this size range so scared and so confused about what our government might do next. If people are scared to death, money will hunker down."

Max Brantley says: "I think the word he wants is bejesus, or, for the delicate, bejeepers." Not necessarily. I've never used bejabbers myself, but I've heard it in old movies, usually coming from an exasperated Irish cop: "When I get my hands on that Green Hornet, I'll knock the bejabbers out of him."

Bejabbers and bejesus are interchangeable, it appears. Both are used as mild oaths expressing dismay, anger, astonishment, etc. As nouns, both mean "dickens, devil": The Chamber of Commerce wants to work the bejabbers/bejesus out of poor people, and cut off their health benefits too.

I couldn't find bejeepers, which doesn't mean it's not out there someplace. At one time, people said there was no Fouke Monster, but a federal judge in Little Rock recently confirmed its existence.

To hunker, as our speaker above warns that money will do, is "to squat on one's heels" or "to take shelter." Apparently, hunker dates back to the 18th century, but the word got a boost in popularity in the 20th, around 1960, when students at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville touched off a hunkering fad on college campuses. Pictures of UA students at squat appeared in Life magazine. Life was very big in those days. So were Look, and the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers ...

"He does his best to do favours to those he finds deserving, stretching the bounds of prison rules (always pernickety and sometimes vindictively petty) on occasion, but without any great hope that they will be effective or repaid." I'd always thought the word for "fussy, nitpicking," was persnickety. But Random House says that pernickety is used also, especially in Britain. The quotation above is from a British magazine. Notice that they spell favors differently too.

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