Bespoke too soon
Dear Word Detective: Suddenly I am seeing the word “bespoke” everywhere I turn. Magazines are running articles gushing over some actor’s “bespoke boots” and singing the praises of “bespoke wedding gowns.” Everything is suddenly “bespoke.” What does this mean, and where did it come from? — K. Mercurio, New York City.
It means that the Great Media Herd is on the move again, that’s what it means. Most people don’t know this, but after the Great Plains buffalo was hunted to near-extinction in the 19th century, worried conservationists began to search for a species to replace the beleaguered behemoths. After extensive testing, the Department of the Metaphors settled on magazine writers as replacements for the buffalo, noting their docility, lack of imagination and, most importantly, their allegiance to the herd mentality.
The only problem with magazine writers as a species is that they are extremely suggestible — to paraphrase a metaphor, it’s strictly magazine writer see, magazine writer write, over and over and over again. Once a particular trendy word has seized the tiny collective mind of the herd, you can rest assured that you’ll be seeing that word, be it “meme” or “trope” or “gamin” or “waif” or “soigne,” from now ’til next Christmas in every imaginable context. In other words, brace yourself, because the herd has just begun to “bespoke.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with “bespoke,” you understand. It’s just the past participle of the verb “bespeak,” which means “to arrange” or “to order.” Something that is “bespoke” has been made to order, as opposed to being purchased ready-made. It’s a slightly archaic term, heard until recently almost exclusively in British English.
“Bespoke” lately seems to have caught the fancy of people for whom just saying “custom-made” does not provide the “frisson” (1995’s buzz word, by the way) it once did. The wealthy (and the journalists who watch them) are as fickle (and silly) in their choice of trendy words as they are in other matters of fashion — what else explains all those Range Rovers in Beverly Hills? Of course, no