Wednesday, December 07, 2016

word of the day: bension

context:
The shadows lengthened across the deserted track, and the evening wind sighed down it to sweep a flurry of whispering leaves across the rut, their brown brittleness light as a bension as they drifted across the unheeding white form [of the exhausted old dog].

definition: The word “bension” does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. Curious! I have heard of a “benison,” however. A benison is a blessing; as the OED has it, “That blessing which God gives; a giving of blessedness.”

I had no luck with Google finding another instance of “bension” outside Sheila Burnford’s novel The Incredible Journey. A site called Quizlet offers “bension” among its “flashcards” for The Incredible Journey (see chapter three) and even provides an audio pronunciation beside the definition (“a blessing or benediction”). I didn’t see a source for Quizlet’s definition. 

It could be that “bension” is a typo, a transposing of the “s” and the “i” of “benison.” If so, is it a typo that’s persisted 55 years and multiple editions? A completely typo-free book is rare. Sometimes typos are found and when a new edition is issued they’ve been corrected. You can read critical editions of classics that discuss such mistakes and often try to figure out whose fault they are, the author’s? the publisher’s?

Perhaps Sheila Burnford was familiar with the word “bension,” as she spelled it, and used it consciously. Words certainly change spellings over time and in different places, so it could be her version of “benison” was not a typo but common to her community.

source: The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
1961. Delacorte Press, New York 

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