This post is a lesson in how hard it can be to think clearly and come up with pithy plain, Saxon English wordforms.
I watched the wonderful film 3096 Days on Netflix last night. No spoilers, but the film featured the word obey prominently. It got me thinking: how would we say “obey” in Plain English?
Now, as far as French borrowings go, “obey” isn’t bad. It’s quite a short word and pretty much obeys(!) the sound structure of English. But it’s not plain English.
Do as you’re told, do what so-and-so tells you to do, follow (after): try to use these and similar phrases when you can.
But what about when we need a shorter expression? What Saxonism could we use?
We could make a phraseword on the analogy of words like wannabe (from the phrase “want(s) to be”). So how about… Tell-do? Say-do? They don’t quite work, do they?
Obey ultimately comes from the Latin meaning “listen to, pay attention to, give ear”. So… Give-ear/ear-give? Listen-do? Forheed? Nice, but I’m not sure they work 100%.
So let’s look to older English words.
Old English had the great word hiersum ‘hearsome’ (like handsome). Why not use this? Or better still, “listensome”? Why? Because listen is distinguished from hear in that it implies that your attention has been directed, whereas hear just means (passively) taking sound into your ear.
So if hearsome or listensome are the adjective, and the abstract noun would clearly be hearsomeness or listensomeness, what would the verb be? Old English had hiersumnian: hiersum with the verb ending, no longer in English. We could follow other -some words and use a phrase with to be. So, “Obey me!”, would be, “Be hearsome/listensome!” And, “You have to obey your father” might be, “You have to be hearsome/listensome with your father”.
As it happens, the root is the verb. Set side-by-side “He is tiresome” and “He tires me”. But there’s a problem: “hear” and “listen” don’t mean “obey”! Interesting, we say “listen to“, so maybe “listen” alone might be “obey”: “Listen to your father” and “Listen (=obey) your father”.
Maybe hear-listen to emphasise the point. “You have to hear-listen (to) your teachers”.
…but in that case, I feel myself drawn back to “listen-do”. Do is the key, as obey mean do it, whatever it is. But compare: Obey your father and Do your father(!) No, it’s Do the thing that your father says. Using do changes the desired object of the verb.
Maybe swap the order around? Do-hear your father, hear-hear, listen-listen, forlisten/forhear, full-listen, fullhear. To-listen? Cf. Overdo, do over mean different things even tho bring in and in-bring don’t. So why can to-listen mean something different to listen to? You must to-listen your father.
We might use the words “hark” and “heed” in some way. Say, “full-heed your father!”. But this doesn’t work for me either.
We often say a word again to emphasise we mean a “real” or “legitimate” version of the thing: “I want to eat food food, not hamburgers” (that is, real, nourishing food); “I’m talking about football football, not American Football” (in a British context, likely meaning “soccer”). So: Listen-listen meaning to really listen, that is, listen and do… AKA obey.
In short, I am struggling to find a Saxon English form which is Plain English enough and which is short. My best ideas in this post are likely listensome (obedient), listen (without “to”) or listen-listen or listen-and-do (obey), listensomeness (obedience).
EDIT: Danny Scwartz left a comment below putting forward “befollow” on the German analog. Not quite perfect, but an outstanding suggestion. Many thanks, Danny!
© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry
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Why doesn’t “heed” work for you?
What about “mind”?
Hi there, Ellisha, thanks for getting in touch!
Heed is indeed a great word, but it doesn’t mean “obey”. It means, ‘note, observe, consider, mark, give (careful) attention, have regard’. It’s very close to “obey”, but not close enough to my mind.
“Mind” is closer to “obey” than “heed” is, and might well work. But I think it has too much heedishness about it, as it were, and does not have the force of obey. That is, “mind” can be softer than “obey” owing to its very many (softer) meanings. It doesn’t have the punch of “obey”. “Obey” really feels closer to “do it!” than “heed” or “mind”.
“In short, I am struggling to find a Saxon English form which is Plain English enough and which is short”
Would the word “yield” work enough in the meantime? Just seen it brooked anent “obey” on Google Books (only search first leaf of I9 yearhundreds books) It reads: “O-bey. To comply with commands: to submit to the impulse or operation of; to yield to the impulse of operation of.”
Done work but still.
What about befollow. The Germans combine the words folgen, which is a cognate of follow and be to make the word befolgen
That is actually a brilliant suggestion! Thank you very much. I’m not sure if it 100% gets st what we want, but it’s very good. I’ll add it to the post.