it doesn't behoove you

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Sep 4 23:55:31 UTC 2010

At 12:40 AM +0100 9/5/10, Lynne Murphy wrote:
>It may be that I've just got(ten) too used to British understatement to see
>it as confusion...  I'd see it as an intentional understatement.
>I do use the word 'behoove'--not every day, but often enough--but always in
>the 'advantageous/suitable' sense.  I wasn't aware of the 'required' sense
>that others seem to take as the more immediate sense--so maybe something
>going on here (generational? regional?).  It certainly makes Swedish 'att
>behöva' (to need) make even more sense to me.

And Dutch "hoeven" ['huv at n] as well--which (like
modal "need" and German "brauchen") is a negative
polarity item, so its negative form can only be
interpreted the way "you needn't" is, not the way
"it doesn't behoove you" is around Ciudad Juarez.


>--On Friday, September 3, 2010 12:19 -0400 Dan Goncharoff
><thegonch at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>>Just a thought -- isn't the use of "behoove" part of a more general
>>confusion between the concepts of "not required to ..." and "required
>>not to ..."?
>>Even sticking with a definition of "advantageous", saying something is
>>not advantageous doesn't mean it makes you worse off. If you say it is
>>advantageous not to do something, then you are better off not doing
>>On Fri, Sep 3, 2010 at 11:10 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>
>>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>>----------------------- Sender:       American Dialect Society
>>><ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> Poster:       Laurence Horn
>>><laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>>Subject:      Re: it doesn't behoove you
>>>At 12:11 PM +0100 9/3/10, Lynne Murphy wrote:
>>>>I don't really see why the Ciudad Juarez example is remarkable.  Seems
>>>>like an application of the sense 'be advantageous'.  It would not be an
>>>>advantage to you to go to CJ. And an easily accessible implicature from
>>>>that statement is: 'it would be a disadvantage to you to go'.
>>>Right, but I agree that it's a bit odd given the environments in
>>>which "neg-raising", i.e. the association of a higher (main clause)
>>>negation with a lower (embedded clause) meaning, tends to occur.*
>>>The classic instances of this phenomenon involve verbs like "want" or
>>>"think/believe" (or both, as in "I don't think she wants to leave"
>>>meaning "I think she wants to stay").  But we do get these readings
>>>with modals of weak obligation like "ought to", "should", "better",
>>>or "supposed to", so "you're not supposed to go" will usually be
>>>interpreted as "you're supposed to stay".  The thing is that
>>>"behoove" might be expected to pattern with stronger obligation verbs
>>>like "have to", which doesn't license such interpretations (in
>>>English), so "you don't have to go" isn't read with the meaning "you
>>>have to stay", nor is "it's not necessary/obligatory for you to go"
>>>read as "it's necessary/obligatory for you not to go".  (Compare
>>>French, where "il ne faut pas que tu ailles" does mean "il faut que
>>>tu n'ailles pas".)  What's remarkable here, if anything is, is that
>>>"behoove" is used in the CJ example as a "neg-raiser", even though
>>>its meaning is more like "be obligatory/required to" or (an
>>>impersonal version of) "have to".  So you'd think that all "it
>>>doesn't behoove you to" should mean is that you're under no
>>>behooving-type obligation, as with "it's not incumbent on you to go".
>>>Instead it's more like "it doesn't suit you to..." or other verbs
>>>whose meaning is a bit weaker than than of "behoove".  On the other
>>>hand, the fact that (as noted upthread) we don't really use "behoove"
>>>a hell of a lot (compared with our Dutch cousins, who are quite fond
>>>of their "hoeven"), and even less when it's negated (compared with,
>>>say, "have to" or "be supposed to"), may have resulted in the meaning
>>>of "it doesn't behoove" being up for grabs.
>>>*Whether this association is an instance of "easily accessible
>>>implicature(s)", semantics, or grammar has long been up for grabs,
>>>but it's clear that the verb matters, so there's a difference
>>>between, say, "I didn't think the Red Sox would collapse" (= I
>>>thought they wouldn't) and "I didn't claim the Red Sox would
>>>collapse" (=/= I claimed they wouldn't).  Or "I don't want to see
>>>you" vs. "I don't hope to see you".  And (ObADS) there's the role of
>>>dialect as well; compare "I don't guess the Rays will finish ahead of
>>>the Yankees" (= 'I guess they won't') as uttered in Alabama vs. New
>>>The American Dialect Society -
>Dr M Lynne Murphy
>Senior Lecturer in Linguistics
>Director of English Language and Linguistics
>School of English
>Arts B348
>University of Sussex
>Brighton BN1 9QN
>phone: +44-(0)1273-678844
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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