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A woodcut of witches using a cauldron

From Middle English forspeken (to bewitch), from Old English forspecan, forsprecan (to speak in vain; to speak amiss; to denounce; to deny); analysable as for- +‎ speak.



forspeak (third-person singular simple present forspeaks, present participle forspeaking, simple past forspoke, past participle forspoken)

  1. (transitive, dialectal, Northern England and Scotland) To injure or cause bad luck through immoderate praise or flattery; to affect with the curse of an evil tongue, which brings ill luck upon all objects of its praise.
    • [1808, John Jamieson, “To FORSPEAK”, in An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: Illustrating the Words in Their Different Significations, by Examples from Ancient and Modern Writers; Shewing Their Affinity to Those of Other Languages, and Especially the Northern; Explaining Many Terms, which, though Now Obsolete in England, were Formerly Common in Both Countries; and Elucidating National Rites, Customs, and Institutions, in Their Analogy to Those of Other Nations: To which is Prefixed, a Dissertation on the Origin of the Scottish Language: [...] In Two Volumes, volume I (A–K), Edinburgh: Printed at the University Press; for W[illiam] Creech, A[rchibald] Constable & Co., and W[illiam] Blackwood; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, & Orme, T[homas] Cadell & W. Davies, and H. D. Symonds, OCLC 946611778, column 2:
      One is said to forspeak another, when he so commends him as to have a supposed influence in making him practically belie the commendation. If one highly praises a child for sweetness of temper, and the child soon after betrays ill humour; the person, who bestowed the praise, is said to have forspokin the bairn.]
    • 1819, Walter Scott, “chapter VII”, in Tales of My Landlord. The Bride of Lammermoor. (Novels and Tales of the Author of Waverley; XII), Edinburgh: Archibald Constable & Co., OCLC 504469930, page 77:
      "I take ye a' to witness, gude people," said Mortheuch, "that she threatens me wi' mischief, and forespeaks me. If onything but gude happens to me or my fiddle this night, I'll make it the blackest night's job she ever stirred in. []"
    • 1854 September 16, “F.”, “Orkney Charms”, in Notes and Queries, volume X, number 225, London: George Bell, OCLC 42717382, page 221:
      When a healthy child suddenly becomes sickly, and no one can account for the change, the child is said to be "forespoken." Or when a stout man or woman becomes hypochondriac, or affected with nervous complaints, he or she is "forespoken." Some one has perhaps said "He's a bonny bairn," or "Thou ar' lookin weel the day;" but they have spoken with an ill tongue. They have neglected to add, "God save the bairn," or, "Safe be thou," &c.
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To bewitch, to charm.
    • [1617?], Thomas Campian [i.e. Thomas Campion], “So Tyr'd are All My Thoughts”, in The Third and Fovrth Booke of Ayres, London: Thomas Snodham, OCLC 84750516, cantus V:
      How are my powres fore-spoke? what strange distaste is this?
    • 1619, “The Examination of Anne Baker of Bottesford in the County of Leicester Spinster", in The Wonderfvl Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip[a] Flower, Daughters of Joan Flower neere Beuer Castle: Executed at Lincolne, March 11. 1618, London: Printed at London by G[eorge] Eld for I. Barnes, dwelling in the long walke neere Christ-Church, OCLC 613937578; republished in A Collection of Rare and Curious Tracts, Relating to Witchcraft in the Counties of Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Lincoln, between the Years 1618 and 1664, London: John Russell Smith, 1838, OCLC 24439978, page 15:
      This Examinat confesseth that shee came to Ioane Gylles house, her Child being sicke, and that shee intreated this Examinat to look on the Child, and to tell her whether it was forspoken or no, and this Examinat said it was forspoken; but when the said Child died she cannot tell.
    • 1658 (first performed 1623), William Rowley; Thomas Dekker; John Ford, The Witch of Edmonton, London: Printed by J. Cottrel for Edward Blackmore [...], Act II, scene i, OCLC 606668964; republished in William Gifford and Alexander Dyce, editors, The Works of John Ford, volume III, new edition, London: James Toovey, 1869, OCLC 468932337, pages 196–197:
      Some call me witch, / And being ignorant of myself, they go / About to teach me how to be one; urging / That my bad tongue—by their bad usage made so— / Forspeaks their cattle, doth bewitch their corn, / Themselves, their servants, and their babes at nurse.
    • 1835, James Baillie Fraser, “An Alarm”, in The Highland Smugglers. [...] In Three Volumes, volume II, Philadelphia, Pa.: E. L. Carey & A. Hart, OCLC 652732, page 115:
      "Dinna forespeak them, woman! dinna forespeak them!" said the man with a dark frown, and with equal earnestness, but with a tinge of superstitious alarm in his voice and manner. "They wud fain hae your good word, an' no your evil tongue with them; and so come, good wife, tell us what ken ye—what's biding them?—come, what have they to do?"
    • 1971, Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in 16th and 17th Century England, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, OCLC 71368859; republished as Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century England, London: Folio Society, 2012, OCLC 805007047, page 180:
      Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the cunning man’s medical dealings was his readiness to diagnose a supernatural cause for the patient’s malady by saying that he was haunted by an evil spirit, a ghost, or ‘fairy’, or that he had been ‘overlooked’, ‘forspoken’, or, in plainer language, bewitched. Thus if any inhabitant of mid-sixteenth-century Maidstone suspected that he had been forspoken, he would go off for advice to one Kiterell, a sorcerer who lived at Bethersden, and specialised in such things: []
  3. (transitive, obsolete) To forbid, to prohibit; to oppose. [15th–19th c.]
  4. (transitive, obsolete) To say bad things about; to slander.

Usage notes[edit]

Not to be confused with forespeak (to foretell, to predict).

Alternative forms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]




From Middle English forspeken (to bewitch), from Old English forsprecan (to speak in vain; to speak amiss; to denounce; to deny).


tae forspeak

  1. To bewitch or cast a spell over, especially using flattery or undue praise; to seduce.