I've noticed a kind of common theme here--I use a lot of words when writing that I don't throw around so casually in everyday speech. Well, maybe I do--the fact is I don't have many permanent records of things I say to people on the fly. (Thank the dear lord.) "At the behest of" is one of the things that I think it's pretty unlikely I'd say to someone who was questioning why I did something at my job, say, but might throw into some written form without too much problem.
I know, I know--there's many that wouldn't.
Once again, I think this is a phrase I can use more or less properly, but at a deeper level, have no idea what I'm really saying. What is that "be-" prefix all about anyway? And where else in the English language does "hest" attach itself? I can't think of any other words that it's a part of. Can you?
I think of "behest" as being a bit like "request", but stronger. Like, say, the queen 'requests' you do something. But there is also a flavor of "on the authority of" and "on behalf of". As is usual with these posts, the more I say, the less I know. So let's find out what's what...
Well, I think my sense of it is in the general ballpark. That "be-" prefix is a bit tricky, though. It can mean "thoroughly" or "to make seem" or "to provide with". I'll let you puzzle that part out for yourself, but basically, "behest" means an authoritative command or urgent request, and stems from the Middle English bihest, or vow.
What's interesting to me is that behest contains both sides of the equation: it is the vow or promise, but also the request or command. Which makes it ideal for diplomacy and other negotiations. It's a word that contains the gray areas. I think what it really connotates or stems from is a sense of preexisting arrangements. It's about relations that are already agreed upon. "At the king's behest", for example, assumes a relation in which the king has the right to ask certain things and the subject feels him or herself right or at least obligated to fulfill these requests.
The following video should make this all clear. Of course, it will probably be a lot clearer if you understand Hindi. (Which is pure conjecture on my part, by the way.)
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