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Subject Literature

Period 1 - 999 CE
1000 - 1999 » 1000-1099

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780470657621.2012.x


Modern English “to behave” has two principal meanings: to comport oneself in public, to engage in social activities; and to be true to one's identity or nature ( OED ). For modern readers behavior raises questions of privacy, something to which many people now believe they have a right but a concept less familiar in the Middle Ages (Duby 1988). The root of Modern English “behave” is OE be-habban , meaning “to hold, contain,” including “to hold something in the breast” ( DOE ). But Raymond Williams notes that the modern sense of “behave” derives from a fifteenth-century modification of “to have” meaning “to bear oneself” (1985: 43). The DOE confirms that “behave” uses the same lexical elements as be-habban but is an independent formation ( DOE ). The sense of “to behave” is expressed in OE by ge-bæran , “to behave, act,” meaning how one bears oneself, and by many less direct constructions, including: behealdan , “to hold” or “to uphold”; gearcian , “to present”; and gearwian , “to show.” All three verbs are used with reflexives to describe how one holds oneself, as in “I restrain myself,” ic me behealde (likewise: I present myself, I show myself). Other constructions express an attribute of behavior, such as purity or loyalty, by attaching it to a verb that refers to the display of personal qualities. Feran , for example, means “to express action or behavior, to conduct ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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