Talk:on behalf of

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On behalf of and In behalf of - same or different?[edit]

In the Wiktionary entry for in behalf of, the definition given is:

    Alternative form of on behalf of

I have reason to believe that this statement is incorrect (the meanings are different), although I don't know what the difference is!

On page 112 (the last page) of the Wilson Quarterly journal for winter, 2011 (published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), there is reproduced one sheet from a questionnaire submitted to The American Heritage Dictionary's Usage Panel, as filled out by the novelist and panel member David Foster Wallace. The first item on the questionnaire asks respondents to decide between in behalf of or on behalf of as the correct insertion into an example sentence.

Wallace complains in a marginal note that they are both correct, and goes on to state that "they mean different things." So if Wallace is correct, what is the difference in meaning?

OperaJoeGreen 21:27, 29 January 2011 (UTC)

Regrettably w:David Foster Wallace has deprived us of the ability to question him about what he meant. "On [possessive] behalf" and "on behalf of" are much more common both at BNC and COCA than the corresponding forms with "in". Other dictionaries show the "on" form as the main and the "in" form as an alternate. A historical corpus of American English shows that "on behalf of" is now favored by 30 to 1, whereas in the middle of the 19th century "in behalf of" was favored by 7 to 1, the crossover being around 1910.
It may be that Wallace found "in" to be more suggestive of "stead" as a synonym for "behalf" and "on" to be more suggestive of "account". DCDuring TALK 22:49, 29 January 2011 (UTC)
I have found a distinction in the Random House American College Dictionary (1963, LC 63-12822). Although this reference is dated, I have put the distinction under user notes. See if you like it. 04:06, 31 January 2011 (UTC)
Re: Modifications and comments from DCDuring. Thank you! OperaJoeGreen 16:43, 31 January 2011 (UTC)
The OED gives obsolete, dated and modern senses, making a distinction between "on" and "in". Should we separate the entries, or just expand the usage notes to include the distinctions that the OED bemoans the loss of? 09:26, 21 March 2013 (UTC)