Friday, March 27, 2009


The other day my husband was on the phone with somebody who needed to come out to our place. Well, our place is way out in the boonies, and even locals whose families have been here for generations have trouble finding it. So, while he's giving this person directions, I heard him say, "It would behoove him to take his cell along and call us when he gets lost." Now, behoove is actually part of my husband's regular vocabulary, and I've even used it myself on occasion when I couldn't think of another word. But I got to thinking about that word, behoove. What exactly does it mean and where did it come from? I know what my husband was saying was that it would be advantageous or beneficial for this person to take along his cell phone, but just how did I know that? Behoove isn't exactly in the Wordpower exercises we did back in our school days, but somehow we had both learned what it means and how to use it.

It's an interesting word. The Online Etymology Dictionary defines it thusly:
behoove Look up behoove at
O.E. behofian "to have need of," from *bihof "advantage, utility," from hof, past tense of hebban "to raise" (see heave).

Well, that's pretty straightforward. It means what I always thought it meant. But that last definition "to raise" looked interesting. And what does "raising" have to do with the word, "heave"? So, I had to look that up.
heave Look up heave at
O.E. hebban "to lift, raise" (class VI strong verb; past tense hof, pp. hafen), from P.Gmc. *khafjanan (cf. O.N. hefja, Du. heffen, Ger. heben, Goth. hafjan), from PIE *kap- "seize;" related to O.E. habban "to hold, possess." Sense of "retch, make an effort to vomit" is first attested 1601. Nautical heave-ho was a chant in lifting.
So, the Old English hebban "to lift, raise" worked its way from Old Norse, Dutch, German, and Goth (East Germanic tribes) back again to Old English habban "to hold, possess." Where the retching comes in I have no idea, unless it's the raising of stomach contents. I can get a handle on habban as it relates to behoove. You have to take ahold of something, possess it in order to have the benefit or advantage of it. I can also see the connection between our modern understanding of "raise" and "heave." You have to lift something up, raise it, in order to heave it, or throw it. But what's that got to do with holding or possessing something, or with something being beneficial or advantageous? That's beyond me. Then there's that pesky prefix be-. I have no idea how that fits in. Well, that's my mind's meanderings around that word. It's not exactly erudite or profound, and probably not even close to being an accurate description, but that's the way I see it.


  1. This is very interesting. My father has always been interested in "words", their use and meaning.