• behest •
Pronunciation: bee-hest • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Bidding, urgent request, order, command.
Notes: Here is a mysterious word that most of us use without thinking. Verbs beginning with be- generally have a form without the prefix: bespeak, bedevil, because, become, etc. We get a hint of archaism when we use it. That is because hest "bidding, promise" hasn't been used since the 19th century. Today's Good Word is a pure lexical orphan.
In Play: Today's verb has a variable meaning: it can indicate anything between a request and a command. "Air Force One was made ready at the President's behest," is probably an order. However, it can also refer to a mere bidding: "The women at the party were declared 'escorts' by the defense, invited at the behest of host, Hardy Partier."
Word History: Today's word started out as Old English behæs "a vow", but by Middle English it had become bihest. The meaning has also moved from "vow, promise" to its current sense. As mentioned above, hest developed in parallel with behest until the mid 19th century. The ultimate origin of the English root is PIE keiê- "set in motion". It picked up an intensive prefix be- somewhere between Germanic hait- "call, summon" and Old English. This same root ended up in Latin citare "to set in motion", which we see today in the English borrowings excite and incite. This root came to be kin- in ancient Greek, where we find kinein "to move", visible in the English borrowings kinesis "motion" and, after being polished up a bit by French, cinema.