Tuesday, March 3, 2009

to the manner born

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day

to the manner born
This Shakespearean phrase -- meaning "accustomed from birth to a certain habit or custom" -- first occurred in Hamlet (1603), when the melancholy protagonist bemoans the king's drunken revelry:
"Though I am a native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honored in the breach than the observance."
The phrase is sometimes misunderstood as "to the manor born." But confusion in the popular mind was aggravated by a clever pun in the title to the BBC television series, To the Manor Born (1979-1981), which ran frequently on American PBS stations.
The actress Penelope Keith played an heiress who, having lived her entire life on an English manor that has been in the family for generations, is forced, through financial straits, to sell the manor to a supermarket magnate. After she moves into a smaller house on the manor, the heiress and the businessman gradually fall in love and eventually marry.
Yet, as one linguist has observed in reference to similar phrases, "what one generation says in game the next generation takes in earnest." John Algeo, "Editor's Note," 54 Am. Speech 240 (1979).
What begins as a pun can spread into genuine linguistic confusion -- e.g.: "If you were not to the manor [read manner] born, consider staying at a hotel where a guest can feel like a country squire." Barrett J. Brunsman, "Virginia's Vintages," Cincinnati Enquirer, 18 Mar. 2001.

1 comment:

Clement Rodrigue said...
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