I encountered a curious phrase in a copyright waiver form: I grant [...] a [...] license to my [...] performance in any [...] recordings [...] taken of me by or on my behalf.

I do not understand what does by my behalf mean. I never encountered this expression before, and is did not even sound English to me.

Google search for the exact phrase "by my behalf" turned up little, but the full quoted expression "by or on my behalf" resulted in many other copyright waivers and similar legal papers, but that did not clear up its meaning at all.

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    It looks like it might be a typo for ... of me, by me, or on my behalf ... (commas added). – bib May 4 '16 at 19:11
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    Better (non-legalese) wording would read thusly: I grant a license to my performance in any recordings taken of me by myself on on my behalf. In this case "by my behalf" is really just saying you, yourself, gave yourself permission...which is odd, but fine for contracts. – VampDuc May 4 '16 at 19:12
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    Searching Google for "by or on my behalf" (with quotes) reveals many examples, which do not look like copy/paste from a single source. I think it may rather be a professional jargon. – user173639 May 4 '16 at 19:13
  • Please provide a link to your source. "I grant [...] a [...] license to my [...] performance" is also nonsense in English. – TrevorD May 4 '16 at 23:22
  • @TrevorD: Sorry, I cannot distribute the document. Does this restriction significantly limits your ability to interpret the meaning of "by my behalf"? – user173639 May 5 '16 at 0:09

The common formula "by or on behalf of X" is, I think, fairly transparent: it means "by X or on behalf of X".

But as I'm sure you know, we don't say "on behalf of me"; rather, for short/light values of X, "on behalf of X" tends to become "on X's behalf".

So "by or on my behalf" is clearly intended to mean "by or on behalf of X" with X being "me".

You only asked about the meaning, but I'm guessing you're interested in the origin as well. I don't know, but I'll do my best . . .

The linguist Neal Whitman has documented a whole bunch of instances of what he's dubbed "right-node wrapping", whereby a construction like "A and B C D" means "A C and B C D". For example, the chorus of the song "Friends in Low Places" contains the clause "the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away", meaning, "the whiskey drowns my blues and the beer chases my blues away"; so the "my blues" part is an object of both "drowns" and "chases", even though it comes right in the middle of "chases ____ away". (The name "right-node wrapping" is because the coordination has two partial-verb-phrase "nodes" — "the whiskey drowns" and "the beer chases away" — and the right node "wraps" around the shared direct object.)

So one possibility is that "by or on my behalf" is a more-extreme variation of right-node wrapping, where my somehow gets implicitly split into me + -'s, and then the node on -'s behalf wraps around the shared object me.

Another possibility is "by or on my behalf" originated as an editing error (someone started with a document that had, say, "by or on behalf of the undersigned", then changed "the undersigned" to "me" and "on behalf of me" to "on my behalf", without noticing that "by or on my behalf" didn't make as much sense) and then simply took root.

Either way, lawyers are very big on copy-and-paste (generally preferring to reuse language that's stood the test of time and court, rather than drafting their own wording that may get on a judge's bad side), so it's possible that many of the documents that use this phrase were not by writers who would use the phrase themselves.

And also either way, the relevant lawyers would probably be familiar enough with "by or on behalf of X" that even if they noticed that "by or on my behalf" sounded strange, they'd probably have no difficulty recognizing the formula and interpreting its meaning correctly. They probably wouldn't notice (or care?) that it's very opaque to the rest of us.

  • Thank you, you certainly read my intention! With my background in linguistics I am wondering not only what the phrase means. but also how it came to be or how it could be analyzed. Right-node wrapping is a very interesting reference, really appreciated. Never heard of it. – user173639 May 8 '16 at 3:59
  • It is "my blues", not "by blues" in both places in the quote from the song, right? – user173639 May 8 '16 at 4:01
  • @kkm: You're welcome! Re: "by blues": Whoops, yes, typo. Fixed now, thanks. :-) – ruakh May 8 '16 at 4:49

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