Commands and Mandates

By Mark Nichol

Several words pertaining to authority or obligation display their kinship with the word element mand. This post lists and defines those terms.

The Latin verb mandare, meaning “order,” is perhaps most commonly represented in command, which primarily means “exercise or have authority.” Other meanings include “have dominance or influence over,” “have at one’s disposal,” or “overlook” (as in reference to a mountain or hill that commands a location of lower elevation). As a noun, command pertains to an order or signal given, to authority, control, dominance, facility, or mastery, to the act of commanding or the position of a military authority, or to the scope of such an authority, including a specific US Air Force unit.

A commander (also often referred to as a commanding officer) is an officer of any rank in a military, law enforcement, or other organizational structure who has authority over a particular unit; in some countries, as in the United States, the head of state is also the commander in chief of its armed forces. Commander is also a specific military or law enforcement rank independent of its generic use, as is the rank of lieutenant commander.

To commend (literally, “entrust with,” from the “entrust” sense of mandare) is to endorse, entrust, or praise, though recommend is often used for the first sense. Behavior that is praiseworthy is commendable, and statement of praise is a commendation. The idioms “commends itself to” and “have much to commend it” are formal language for “is liked and approved” and “is good in many ways,” respectively.

To countermand is to reverse an order, and as a noun the word refers to such a reversal. To demand is to claim, require, or summon, or to express an expectation (as in “Courtesy demands an acknowledgment of the gesture”). The noun demand refers to something claimed or required, to the notion of a desire or want for something or the quantity of something desired or wanted (as in the expression “supply and demand”), to a need or to being needed or wanted (as in “As a speaker, she is in great demand”), or to expectations (as in “the demands of the job”). The phrase “on demand” means “when asked for” or “when needed.” To remand is to give over (as in returning a case to trial or a criminal suspect to custody) or send back; a remand is such an action.

A mandate is an authorization or command, though it is often used in a political sense to suggest that an election victory or passage of a legislative act validates a certain ideology or policy. It also refers to a conquered territory granted to a particular country, or to an authorization for such a grant. To mandate is to require or to administer a mandate, and something mandatory is required (or might pertain to the granting of territory).

The adjective is not to be confused with the legal term mandatary, which refers to a person given authority to transact business for another person. Another obscure legal term derived from mandare is mandamus, which refers to a document issued by a court of law that commands that an act or duty be undertaken or performed.

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2 Responses to “Commands and Mandates”

  • Dale A. Wood

    “To commend”: “We commend his soul to God” and “We commend his body to the ground”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    No such article about these words with Latin roots would be complete without this word and its meaning:
    “Imperator”, which means “general” and not “emperor”.
    I remember a few things from my lone year of Latin in school. One was a Latin sentence that says, “If Caesar is the general, then the Romans will be victorious,” or “If Caesar is the general, then the Romans cannot lose.” The man referred to is Julius Caesar, and he was the general who conquered Gaul and the southern part of England for the Roman Republic.

    Of course, “imperator” is the root of the English word “imperative”, the “Imperative Mood” in language. Other languages have the Imperative Mood, too, and a good example comes from German for those who have watched too many war movies and TV programs: “Macht schnell, Dummkopf!”

    This all brings to mind something about the Caesars and the Roman legal system. In his will, Julius Caesar adopted posthumously Augustus Caesar, which is how Augustus got the surname “Caesar”. This sounds odd because in our Anglo-American-Canadian legal system, posthumous adoptions are unheard of! That is about as odd as a posthumous marriage would be.

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