On behalf of this fossilised phrase is a recent article I wrote for Macmillan Dictionary Blog about the expression on behalf of:
On someone’s behalf, etymologically speaking, means ‘on someone’s side’, from an old meaning of half. It emerged in Middle English as a result of blending the two phrases on his halve and bihalve him, both of which meant ‘on [or by] his side’; thus Chaucer, ‘Spek thow thiself also to Troylus On my bihalve’. The word in modern use has two related meanings: 1. ‘instead of someone, or as a representative of someone’, and 2. ‘in order to help someone’. Sense 1 is more neutral, while sense 2 implies active support or defence of a person.
The post also looks at in behalf of and lesser known variants, transatlantic differences, the non-standard plural *on their behalves, and a recent development whereby on someone’s behalf is used to mean on someone’s part.
Is ‘invite’ acceptable as a noun? examines a disputed nominalisation, including its use in different registers and the criticism it has received from language authorities:
With another throw of the historical dice, invite as a noun might have developed as the norm, with invitation considered an inkhornish variant. But invitation got there first and established itself as the noun of choice. Flannery O’Connor and William Makepeace Thackeray both used invite as a noun – but in letters. When it appears in edited writing it quite often marks a light or jocular tone. It may even be framed by scare quotes to mark its less-than-wholly-proper stature.
But we can acknowledge all this without lambasting the word as a ‘needless barbarism’, as one critic did. Can we omit needless accusations of barbarity? That’s my invite to the critics.
Older posts may be found in my Macmillan Dictionary Blog archive.
Re: “Behalf.” So is that related to when someone says their spouse is their “better half,” is that sort of like saying their better side?
Re: “Invite” (IN-vite) as a noun. I think that some things just get so pervasive that after a while you become numb. For me, it started with the phrase “Do you wanna come with?” I thought it was so….incomplete…but after hearing it over and over, I just didn’t care anymore. I decided that since I clearly got the message, it was OK, and I even find myself using it at times. Now with everything being “e” (e-mail, e-cards, e-vites), “invite” as a noun doesn’t seem so bad. It certainly is shorter. I am still not happy about “Thanks much,” however.
bluebird: The better half idiom dates to 1566 or thereabouts, originally with the sense ‘greater portion’ but soon afterwards (1586, per OED) coming to refer to a person’s spouse or partner. The ‘side’ sense of half seems to peter out around the same time, so I suspect the idiom’s half has the more familiar sense of one of two parts, more or less equal.
Come with isn’t very common in Ireland, but I know people who use it occasionally and I remember having to consciously adjust to it the first few times I heard it.
I assume that “by” was a deliberate typo to test our concentration! I like your writing. I may be in contact in due course regarding a parish book that is being written at present. TH.
An unfortunate oversight, Tom. Thanks for the catch, and the kind words. By all means drop me a line any time.