Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-blaij-mênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Scots English) A favor, a kindness that is expected, though not obligatory. 2. (Dated) An obligation.

Notes: The verb oblige once had two nouns made from it: obligation and obligement. But the Scots made something else out of the latter, steering its meaning toward "an expected favor". Now English dictionaries on both sides of the Atlantic accept the Scottish handiwork.

In Play: An obligement is less rigid than an obligation: "June McBride was knitting baby shoes and sweaters, an obligement of pregnancy." It is freely given, though called-for in certain situations: "Every smooth-running community is underpinned by a network of obligements."

Word History: Today's Good Word is clearly oblige + -ment. Oblige was borrowed French obliger "to make someone legally or duty bound to do something for you". English took this meaning and reversed it when used with the first person; 'to oblige someone' can now mean 'do a favor', since it would make me obliged to you: "I obliged him by giving him my tickets." French inherited its word from Latin obligare "to bind, bandage" from ob "to(ward)" + ligare "to tie, bind". This word underlies the English borrowed term ligature. Latin inherited its word from PIE leig- "to tie, bind", which also became ligue "league, association" in French. English borrowed this word and respelled it league, possibly under the influence of Italian lega.

Dr. Goodword,

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