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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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A Word A Day — devoir

October 05, 2012

Word of the Day

  • devoir
  • audio pronunciation
  • \duh-VWAHR\


: duty, responsibility
: a usually formal act of civility or respect

"The Grand Master, having allowed the apology of Albert Malvoisin, commanded the herald to stand forth and do his devoir." — From Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel Ivanhoe

"Our feet are always faithful, never fickle. Now, don't contradict this. I don't know about yours, but my feet pursue me everywhere; they are perfectly content with their commitment to me, and I am more than grateful for their devoir." — From an article by Jean Guerrero in the Daily Trojan, February 8, 2007


"Devoir" was borrowed twice, in a manner of speaking. We first borrowed it in its Anglo-French form, "dever," back in the days of Middle English. As is so often the case when an adopted word becomes established in English, its pronunciation shifted to conform to English pronunciation standards. The French put the stress on the last syllable, but English speakers stressed the first. One hundred or so years later, some writers changed the English spelling to "devoir" to match the modern French. That French borrowing was actually pronounced like French (as well as English speakers could, anyway)—just as it is today.

From Merriam-Webster Online at

Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.