• devoir •
dev-wahr, dêv-wahr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Act of respect or courtesy, that which someone ought to do, as 'to pay one's devoirs'. 2. Duty, responsibility.
Notes: This word has no derivational relatives. It has been around since the 12th century in different spellings (see Word History). Just remember the OI is pronounced not as in English words (void), but as in French (WAH) and you should be OK.
In Play: "Every summer my mother told me that I should pay my devoirs to my Aunt Pearl because, in her words, 'she may not be here next summer'." Aunt Pearl lived to be 96, and I paid my 'last' devoirs to her for more than 20 summers. Let's not forget the second sense of this word, which may be used figuratively: "Henry did double devoirs to the cherry pie; he ate two large pieces."
Word History: In Middle English today's Good Word was dever with initial accent from Provençal dever with final accent, but in the 15th century the spelling was made to conform to the Parisian French devoir with a final accented syllable. Some English-speakers, however, retained the original initial accent. French inherited the word from Latin debere "to owe", whose root we see in the English borrowings debt and debit. Latin inherited its word from Proto-Indo-European ghabh- "to give, receive". When this word came through the Germanic languages, it provided English with give and German with geben. (It is time to pay our devoirs to George Kovac, who recommended today's Good Word, still clinging to its place in the English vocabulary.)
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