It may, on the other hand, have been just a facon de parler, for lawyers are not like other people. They enjoy out-of-date phraseology, often the older the better; and behove has a long history. In Old English behofian meant to be useful or necessary. In Middle English it meant to be suitable, proper or incumbent, by which time it had begun to attract some moral overtones: good manners behoved a gentleman, and so on. It's odd that it survives only in negative contexts. We don't talk much about things behoving well any more, as we were still doing only 100 years ago. Behoves has become a one-trick word, like kith.
For me, there's something pedantic and clerkly about it. Part of its problem is that it sounds wrong, as though it were an ignorant misuse of the past tense of a non-existent beheave. Americans got over this by spelling and pronouncing it behoove, which I used to think truly ignorant, until I learnt from the OED that this was the original pronunciation. Its noun, making it analogous with prove, was behoof, or advantage.
Nicholas BagnallReuse content