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'Manner Born' or 'Manor Born'?

Your behavior—good manners—are more important than your residence, at least that's the implication of the phrase "to the manner born," which describes someone of high stature.

By
Mignon Fogarty
a little girl with manners saying please.

 

Shakespeare coined the phrase “the manner born” (as in “mind your manners” and “table manners”) to describe someone born into a high position or who was accustomed to privilege from birth. Hamlet first uttered the line as he disdains the king’s loud and drunken partying:

Though I am native here

And to the manner born, it is a custom

More honored in the breach than the observance.

In other words, even though I am from this land, and I know it’s the custom to party, I wish we wouldn’t honor that custom. 

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Some people mistakenly describe the rich as “manor born,” and a BBC TV show played on words to come up with the title “To the Manor Born,” which likely contributed to the confusion.

They did get the phrasing right though. Although our tendency today might be to say someone is “manner born,” it nearly always appears as “to the manner born,” as Shakespeare wrote it.

For example, here’s a line from a biography of a woman named Miss Florence Searing published in 1897:

She was so pretty and so evidently to the manner born that society people were pleased to have her appear as an ornamental adjunct to their entertainments.

American Women: Fifteen Hundred Biographies

If you use this phrase, which seemed to be more popular in the late 1800s, think of Shakespeare’s rude and rowdy king with his bad manners to remind yourself of the proper spelling.

Examples

Most television viewers probably believe that courtly Mr. Welch is a proper Bostonian, to the manner born. Actually he is the perfect example of how the legal profession in the U.S. has served as a ladder for the children of humble families.

Life, May 17, 1954

Mary Ann Tighe will gladly tell you that she wasn’t to the manner born. “I’m a girl from the Bronx,” says the powerhouse New York commercial real-estate broker, who recently built a country manor dubbed Hollyhock…

Architectural Digest, June 25, 2018

Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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