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Definition: Illegitimate or ill-conceived method of attaining something. It can also refer to procreation – as in to ‘beget’ a child in a way that causes problems for inheritance. In other words, a ‘misbegotten son’ was a nicer way of saying ‘Bastard’. Misbegotten derives from the obsolete verb ‘Misbeget’.

Pronunciation: mis-bee-got-n


Misbegotten came into being around the mid-16th century, being derived from ‘Misbeget’. ‘Misbeget’ dates back to the 1300s, evolving from the earlier Old English ‘begietan’. ‘Beget’ itself derives from the word ‘get’. The concept is known in other languages – for example, the related word ‘bigitan’ in Gothic.

The sense of using ‘beget’ to refer to procreation dates from around 1200.

Why This Word?

The Bible. The book of Genesis in particular makes much use of the word ‘begat. For example, take this quote from genesis 4:18: “And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.”

There was a lot of begetting going on back then.

Thus, it is a word that many of us have heard but not necessarily understood. After all – there may be no sex in the Bible – but there is a lot of ‘begetting’.

‘Beget’ is a strange word in any case. The prefix ‘be’ is added only for emphasis. To then add a second prefix – ‘mis’ – creates this Frankenstein-type word that is sewn together from pieces of other words.

Frankenstein – by the way – was not the legal son of his creator – Doctor Frankenstein. But one could argue that he was his misbegotten son

How to use the word misbegotten in s sentence?

It is no longer acceptable at all to refer to someone born out of wedlock as a ‘bastard’. Indeed, ‘traditional’ family structures – insomuch as they existed – have changed dramatically over the course of the last hundred years. Thus, misbegotten is probably no longer an appropriate term either. It can, however, be used to describe other things. Perhaps a poorly conceived plan could be referred to as misbegotten. Indeed, something that is not properly acquired – perhaps goods purchased on the black market – could also be referred to as ‘misbegotten‘.

Of course – you do not have to use it at all. You could simply use ‘illegitimate’ – and forget about this misbegotten son of the English language.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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