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Oblige to mean “force”

LDOCE says that “No one can oblige you to stay in a job that you hate.” is not correct. Do you think that this sentence is acceptabale?

  • September 2, 2011
  • Posted by hero
  • Filed in Usage

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Sounds marginally ok to me, altho it also sounds a little confusing, as a spoken sentence, so I probably would not use that wording. First tho, I am not convinced it means "force" in that sentence. Even if you used the more appropriate "obligate" in that sentence, it still is not the same as forcing. Forcing is such a strong term. It really can go beyond the constraints of a "social contract" situation, where I agree to take on an obligation so that I can maintain a certain status quo, and enters into an area where physical violence is a potential. If "force" is the intended meaning, I think it's a bad choice to say "oblige." I don't think oblige should be used that way. It's a matter of perspective. A person is forced from without. An obligation is something a person takes on themselves. The sentence, "No one can (force, require, issue a mandate for) you to stay in a job you hate," works, in my view. But if the meaning we are to get from the sentence is that no one can force you to take on an obligation, well, this is sort of a platitude that plays on the concepts of the two perspectives I described. It would be the same as saying that no one can force you to take on a voluntary obligation. Of course not. However, it's as complex as any human interaction. The military has a term I like, "voluntold," as in, "I was voluntold to perform this function." By which it's clear that the person didn't really feel they had a choice in the matter, but the task was offered AS IF it was a voluntary matter. I have to ask, can I olbige myself to stay in a job I hate? Seems like a ridiculous question. I can decide to stay, but why would I use a term like oblige to descirbe my decision? Unless perhaps I was signing up for a period of service of some duration. Normally I can quit a job anytime. But if I was signing up for a military tour of duty, by signing up I would be obliging myself for that term.

kellyjohnj September 7, 2011 @ 1:29PM

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I would agree that oblige is not really the right word. I'd go as far as to say it's a a misquote of the familiar saying. I think "forced" is the more common word. They don't mean the same thing. If I'm obliged to do something, I'm supposed to do it but I don't have to. I can choose not to. If I'm forced to do something, then I cannot opt out. I must do it. If I'm obliged to go to a social event, I can still choose not to go and risk the wrath of my family and friends. If I'm forced to go to jail, I can't choose otherwise. I'll be dragged there physically, against my will.

Next, if you look at the actual meaning of the saying, "obliged" doesn't make any sense. Plenty of people, perhaps most, are obliged to stay in their job, whether they hate it or love it. On the other hand, no one is "forced" to stay in their job. That's the point of the saying. If you hate your job, you always have other options.

i have a choice.

For one thing, you can be obliged to stay in a job you hate.

porsche September 9, 2011 @ 8:00AM

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oops, bad edit. delete the last two lines of my post above:

"i have a choice.
For one thing, you can be obliged to stay in a job you hate."

shouldn't be there

porsche September 9, 2011 @ 8:02AM

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The sentence if perfectly correct. Oblige means "compel".

Oblige often makes an action necessary by imposing certain conditions that demand a response, for byspel: Her mother's illness obliged her to be more cooperative.

oblige |əˈblīj|
verb [ trans. ]
Make (someone) legally or morally bound to an action or course of action: Doctors are obliged by law to keep patients alive while there is a chance of recovery.

• [ trans. ] Do as (someone) asks or desires in order to help or please them: Oblige me by not being sorry for yourself |
[ intrans. ] Tell me what you want to know and I'll see if I can oblige.

• (be obliged) be indebted or grateful: If you can give me a few minutes of your time I'll be much obliged.

• [ trans. ] archaic bind (someone) by an oath, promise, or contract.

ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense [bind by oath] ): from Old French obliger, from Latin obligare, from ob- ‘toward’ + ligare ‘to bind.’

AnWulf September 11, 2011 @ 5:53AM

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AnWulf, I'm not sure I agree. Even if you use oblige in its strongest sense, you may ALWAYS choose not to do something that you're obliged to do (if you are willing to bear the consequences). Even if you use the word compel in its weakest sense, you are NEVER able to avoid doing something you are compelled to do. If you avoid doing it, then you weren't actually compelled.

porsche September 11, 2011 @ 7:23AM

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@porsch ... Just because it's not the way that *I* would write it, does not mean that it is wrong.

But I think that you're trying to find a nook that truly isn't there.

Let's take out the Latinate and put in an Anglo-root word. Oblige in "true" English means to bind.

“No one can oblige you to stay in a job that you hate.”
"No one can bind you to stay in a job that you hate."

There ya go ... it works. So the sentence is correct. The best thing to do is stay away from the Latinate.

AnWulf September 11, 2011 @ 8:00AM

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AnWulf, replacing one word with a completely different word doesn't prove anything.

However, "oblige" does mean "To constrain, influence; to force, compel (a person)" (OED sense V.12).

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage has an entry for obliged vs obligated. "When the constraint is applied by physical force or by circumstances… obliged and not obligated is used."

goofy September 12, 2011 @ 8:51AM

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@goofy, in this byspel it does and it did ... I know allll about how folks try to make sundry shades of meaning ... huru those Latin-lovers ... that truthfully aren't there.

You must look at the root of the word. Here is it is eath to swap the Anglo word for the Latin and understand the meaning.

In the end, whether you like or not, the sentence is correct. It's not the way I would have written it but it is still correct.

AnWulf September 12, 2011 @ 9:45AM

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"You must look at the root of the word."

That's the etymological fallacy. Etymologies aren't definitions.

goofy September 12, 2011 @ 10:41AM

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If you're going to quote me ... finish it in context. "HERE is (sic) it is eath to swap ..." If you look at the list of synonyms ... bind is there. And it depends on how much the word has change in meaning ... HERE, it really hasn't. So not only is bind the Anglo translation of the root, it is part of the definition, and it is a synonym.

make (someone) legally or morally bound *** past tense of bind
bind (someone) by an oath, promise, or contract.
syn require, compel, bind,

Knowing the root can often lead to a better understanding of the word. If you don't know the root then strange things start to happen.

The frains were whether the sentence is correct and is it acceptable? The answer is yes to both. We have no context for how the sentence is used so we can only judge it as it is ... And as it is, it is correct and it is acceptable.

AnWulf September 12, 2011 @ 8:11PM

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AnWulf, while I could still debate this, I tell you what, I'll cede that in certain cases, "oblige" can mean "force", but surely you would accept that this isn't always the case, yes? Most of the time when someone says they're obliged to do something, they mean that they have some moral, social, or even legal obligation, but that they are free to ignore it if they are willing to accept the consequences.

Regardless, my point is that using "oblige" in the quote in question isn't incorrect because of bad grammar or even semantics. It's incorrect because the statement is NOT TRUE! The truth is, we all ARE obliged to work (at least most of us are), even in a job we might hate. We need to pay our bills, feed our families, provide for our children. It may be hard to find another job because of the economy, or we are older, or have specialized skills after years of education. Maybe we can't afford to retrain, or don't have any savings or can't afford a pay cut. Maybe we feel a sense of loyalty to our coworkers.

All of these things oblige us to stay at a particular job, but none of them force us. There are always other options. Can't find another job? Consider relocating. Can't afford to change careers? Go to night school while you work. Cut your expenses and save more. Hate it that much? You can always scale back your lifestyle and choose a lower-paying, less stressful job. Maybe you just need to get off your butt and start looking. Heck, you can even quit your job, get a divorce, abandon your kids, and become homeless!

Also, while I agree that the sentence should be judged as it is, it is not without context. “No one can force you to stay in a job that you hate” is an old, familiar adage, all on its own. “No one can oblige you to stay in a job that you hate” is a paraphrasing or rather, a misquote of the familiar maxim. To say you're not obliged is is a slap in the face to your friends, family, and the rest of society. To say you're not forced is a call to action intended to urge someone to overcome their dispair and change a bad situation.

One more thing, while it is certainly insightful and enlightening to examine a word's etymology, equating a word's definition with its etymology is an etymological fallacy, even if the definitions happen to agree.

porsche September 16, 2011 @ 11:03AM

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You're veering off in a totally different direction. Outside of a contractional obligation, you can't be obliged (by someone else) to keep working at a job that you hate. You may feel obliged because of outside pressures but that is your choice. Personally, I went "Galt" a few years ago after 20 years on the job and have never felt freer. OTOH, if you enlist in the Army, then you have, in every sense of the word, obliged yourself to that job for the duration of the enlistment whether you hate it or not.

But that is philosophical ... grammatically, the sentence works. If you want to say, “You can oblige yourself to stay in a job that you hate”, that works too.

AnWulf September 16, 2011 @ 3:23PM

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