In the first story "Rich In Russia" in Bech: A Book, John Updike writes:

(the mailbox, students should know, where his pitifully nibbled checks arrive has been well scarred by floating urban wrath, and his last name has been so often ballpointed by playful lobby-loiterers into a somewhat assonant verb that Bech has left the name plate space blank and depends upon the clairvoyance of mailmen)

What "somewhat assonant verb" did Updike have in mind?

2 Answers 2


I can only speculate, but the simplest ballpoint mark one could make to 'Bech', using the same vowel sounds with different consonants would be a simple vertical stroke between the 'e' and 'c', creating 'Belch'.

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    that's brilliant, and frankly much less of a stretch than my answer. :D (I have a potty mouth, so my mind pretty much always goes to filth first.) I do tend to think of belch as a noun more than a verb, but it does qualify, and Occam's Razor shaves it closer than fuck. Apr 24, 2017 at 12:18
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    @LaurenIpsum 'Belch' wouldn't have occurred to me without your helpful groundwork on assonance, collaborative iteration is a fine thing.
    – Spagirl
    Apr 24, 2017 at 12:29
  • Thanks for that. It was driving me nuts! I was too focused on assonance and trying to find two-syllable words. (BTW, can somebody with reputation create the tag john-updike? And what other tags would you think of for a question like this? Never mind, I see that's been done, thanks.) Apr 25, 2017 at 17:00

The definition of assonant is:

a rhyme in which the same vowel sounds are used with different consonants in the stressed syllables of the rhyming words, as in penitent and reticence.

If the last name in question is Bech, and the similar word is a verb, my guess is that he was thinking of fuck (or possibly the Irish variant feck). It's "somewhat assonant" because it's really matching the hard -c, depending on how the -ch of Bech is pronounced. The only other similar epithet is bitch, which is much more often used as a noun when it's scrawled on a wall. (It can be a verb, but almost always in speech or in prose, not graffitoed aphorisms.)

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    The simplest ballpoint mark one could make to 'Bech', using the same vowel sounds with different consonants would be a simple vertical stroke between the 'e' and 'c', creating 'Belch'. The quote didn't require creation of an epithet.
    – Spagirl
    Apr 24, 2017 at 10:22
  • I think the premise is that the assonant verb is in Russian. Apr 24, 2017 at 10:41
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    @Gallifreyan I don't think so.The sentence around the parentheses reads 'Though Bech, and his too numerous interviewers, have made a quixotic virtue of his continuing to live for twenty years in a grim if roomy Riverside Drive apartment building (), he in truth lives there because he cannot afford to leave. He was rich just once in his life, and that was in Russia, in 1964, a thaw or so ago.’ So I assume he's in Manhattan at this point.
    – Spagirl
    Apr 24, 2017 at 11:00
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    @Spagirl Ah. I guess it's not wonder then that I couldn't find a matching Russian verb :) Apr 24, 2017 at 11:16
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    I agree on the somewhat assonant part, which is where I was failing in my mental search. I was looking for one assonant word, not assonance between the change and Bech. But I see you agree with Spa girl, belch is most reasonable. Upvoted your answer anyway, because some readers may not know what assonance is. Apr 25, 2017 at 17:05

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