“Imagine trying to bleep open your car one day,” says Graham Steel, the boss of Cryptosense, a firm that makes automated security-checking software, “but then you’re told that your car has been locked, and if you want back in you need to send $200 to some shady Russian e-mail address.”

This sentence is extracted from The economist. I looked up the dictionary and found that "bleep" can be used as noun or verb. In this sentence, I think "open" is the verb, then "bleep" should be an adverb to modify "open". But there is not such usage in dictionary. Does "bleep" make sense if it is a noun or a verb in this sentence? and how?

The whole paragrah is:

A recent development is “ransomware”, in which malicious programs encrypt documents and photographs, and a victim must pay to have them restored. “Imagine trying to bleep open your car one day,” says Graham Steel, the boss of Cryptosense, a firm that makes automated security-checking software, “but then you’re told that your car has been locked, and if you want back in you need to send $200 to some shady Russian e-mail address.”

  • 1
    bleep open is more like a compound/phrasal verb. English has a lot of those. Think of those words together as the verb, functioning together as a unit.
    – shawnt00
    Dec 29, 2015 at 17:23

5 Answers 5


At first I thought it might have been an expletive that was deleted.

If the sentence had been

Your car has been bleeping stolen

I would have interpreted that as a placeholder for a swear word.

But in context it is clear he is talking about a car remote keyless system. Typically these make a bleeping sound indicating that the door was locked/unlocked successfully.

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    You should probably mention that, once we understand what “bleep” here refers to, we can see it operating as a part of the compound verb “bleep open,” since the question does ask about it being a noun, verb, or adverb.
    – KRyan
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:22
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    @KRyan GoDuck's answer deserves any credit for that point. Dec 28, 2015 at 18:25
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    Yes, and his answer lacks the explanation of what on earth the “bleep” refers to (which I couldn’t figure out until you explained). So neither answer seems complete to me.
    – KRyan
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:29
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    It's not a compound verb: see my comment on GoDuck's answer. I wrote an answer that explains what's going on.
    – Lynn
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:24
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    @jpmc26 - No doesn't look like it. A Google search finds StackExchange references to this question. When they are excluded not many results at all. The Economist article and a book called "Wedding Night"! google.co.uk/… Dec 29, 2015 at 17:38

In your example, the word bleep is as an onomatopoeia to signify the sound the car makes when remotely unlocked. In the same way that a TV remote is called a blipper (rhymes with flipper).

It could be a split infinitive, but may also be the language in transition.


It's not a compound verb as others are writing. Compare sugarcoat vs. bleep open in the following sentences:

1a. I tried to bleep open my car.

1b. I tried to bleep my car open.

2a. I tried to sugarcoat the scenario.

2b. *I tried to coat the scenario sugar.

(1b) is perfectly valid, separating the verb bleep from the object complement adjective open. Doing the same in (2b), with compound verbs like sugarcoat, this is clearly ungrammatical. If bleep open were indeed a compound verb, it would behave as a single verb -- an inseparable unit like sugarcoat or tap dance -- but it does not.

The sentence structure used in the article is the same as in "I tried to force open my car". Again, force is the transitive verb and open is an object complement.

So what kind of a verb is bleep? It's an onomatopoeia used as a transitive verb. This happens now and then in informal, spoken language. Here's a less grammatically confusing example from Merriam-Webster:

[She] keeps dinging it into him that the less he smokes the better.

You could also say something like this:

He told me my air horn was getting annoying, so I honked him away.

Here, that means: I drove him away using some tool (the air horn) that makes a honking sound. Similarly, bleep is used in the same sense; the tool being used (the keypad on a remote keyless system) makes a blip! sound when you open your car with it.

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    Yes that is one valid analysis. But if bleep open is taken as a compound verb, then you cannot separate it. So your 'proof' has no leg to stand on. In I tried to finger paint my car, I can't separate the compound verb finger paint. So really it comes down to how one reads bleep open, and our answers show that it can be read more than one way.
    – GoDucks
    Dec 28, 2015 at 22:40
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    I think since "bleep" is being used in a very unusual way here, it depends on being paired with the word "open" for enough context to understand that it was meant onomatopoetically. Though it sounds akward enough as-is, hearing "I tried to bleep my car open" makes me wonder what perverse things were done to the vehicle. Dec 28, 2015 at 23:06

This is a case of using the effect (a noun, in this case the sound) of an action as a verb to describe the action itself.

If you are unfamiliar with the sound heard when unlocking a vehicle, listen to this video for an example of the bleeping sound.

Consider other examples such as:

"I'll buzz you in"

…to describe pressing a button to allow somebody to enter a building — this creates a "buzz"ing sound to indicate to the visitor that the door is now open.

"I'll ring you"

…to describe contacting somebody via telephone — this causes the recipient's telephone to "ring", alerting the recipient that they have a call incoming.

"I'll chug a drink"

…to describe consuming a drink — depending how loudly this is done you may hear a "chug" sound from the throat when swallowing.

"…bleep your car open"

…to describe pressing the "open" button on your keyfob — this causes the car's doors to unlock. To alert you that the car is now locked/unlocked, typically there will be a series of flashes/beeps to indicate that this has happened.


In this case bleep open acts like a compound verb, such as the verb finger paint.

A compound verb is when a noun is "added" to a verb, so that it becomes part of the verb. Other examples are sugar coat and tap dance. Many times a hyphen is used when spelling these words: this is to show that the noun/verb compound is being used as one (compound) word. And then if they get used a lot they can be spelled with no hyphen or space (breastfeed).

So the author could have written bleep-open. But it is probably a fairly recent combination, without a lot of usage, and so people don't consider it a true compound word yet.

  • 2
    You should probably mention what the “bleep” here actually is.
    – KRyan
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:29
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    @KRyan The OP is aware that bleep is a noun, and he looked the word up in a dictionary.
    – GoDucks
    Dec 28, 2015 at 20:51
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    It's not a compound verb. To bleep ... open is separable, to sugarcoat is not. Bleep is the verb and open is an object complement, as in try to force open your car. See my answer for a full explanation.
    – Lynn
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:22
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    @Mauris It's pretty well known that the same sentence can be interpreted in different ways. Thanks for sharing your analysis.
    – GoDucks
    Dec 28, 2015 at 21:31

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