The Oxford English Dictionary says the reflexive verb "behave oneself" is akin to what it calls the "modern" German verb "sich behaben". As far as I can tell, "sich benehmen" is a current locution and "sich behaben" is not. Is this a case of lexicographers considering something "modern" because it was used only five centuries ago? Or might it be more recent, e.g. two centuries?

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    According to Google's n-grams, "behaben", no matter what its meaning, was very, very rare in the 19th century. In the 20th and 21st centuries it's practically non-existent. I can confirm that I've never encountered that verb in decades of native speaking. Nov 9, 2016 at 18:28
  • AFAIK, it is used - if at all - with a negative connotation, meaning someone behaved in a ponderous or hesitant manner.
    – Ingo
    Nov 9, 2016 at 18:36
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    It may be because I’m sleep-deprived but at present I’m failing to understand your question.
    – Jan
    Nov 9, 2016 at 19:48
  • @Ingo: Did you mean "echauffieren"? I also was thinking of this, but can not really remember when I heard this.
    – Thomas
    Nov 9, 2016 at 21:31
  • Never heard or read of this: "sich behaben", IMHO it is not used at all and an error here: en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/behave
    – Thomas
    Nov 9, 2016 at 21:35

2 Answers 2


dwds.de knows the verb behaben and defines it as follows:

To act or behave in a certain way

The part "Etymologie" on that page may be interesting for you as well. Deduced from that is the adjective behäbig, which translates to:

ponderous, sedate, stolid

Personally I've never heard behaben and even the Verb gehaben is rarely used today. The most common way it is used (even though crippled) is:

Hab dich nicht so!
Don't make such a fuss!


The only verb coming near to behaben is gehaben and the meaning would also match. Perhaps a typo?

In any case it would consider it dated in any meaning, not just in the behave counterpiece.

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    It does not match "behave oneself". "gehaben" is "demeanor to" by the way. "sich benehmen" fits better really.
    – Thomas
    Nov 9, 2016 at 23:21
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  • "diese alte bedeutung von behalten, behaupten dauert noch im 16 jh., doch verwechselte man behaben und beheben " woerterbuchnetz.de/DWB/?lemma=behaben Nov 10, 2016 at 15:09
  • @CarstenS: I have some difficulty with link-only comments. You proved, that such a word was known at some earlier time (Goethe used it with special meaning, Stieler from 1697 no longer lists it), but this surely does not qualify its use in a contemporary dictionary. So what is your statement exactly?
    – guidot
    Nov 10, 2016 at 15:21
  • I understood the question as asking whether the claim of the word as modern should be understood as Neuhochdeutsch or would include Frühneuhochdeutsch. Therefore I do not think that it is helpful to claim that the word does not exist only because it is not currently in use.
    – Carsten S
    Nov 10, 2016 at 16:45

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