To beggar belief
Posted by R. Berg on January 09, 2002
In Reply to: To beggar belief posted by The Fallen on January 09, 2002
: : In a conversation at work, a colleague used this phrase and a general mélée ensued discussing where it came from and what it actually means. Any input, anybody?
: The word "beggar" can also be a transitive verb, meaning to exceed the boundaries, resources or capabilities of. It survives today primarily in set phrases, such as to beggar belief, the example you cite, or to beggar description. The word/meaning must spring from the same root as the noun beggar, who is someone who has also exhausted all his/her resources. I think it's Old German in origin, but someone else will no doubt confirm this.
Webster's Second traces it to Middle English < Anglo-French < Old French < Low German < probably Middle Dutch "beggaert," beggar.