TO THE MANNER BORN: accustomed from birth to a certain habit or custom*

It looked like a typographical error when I saw this term used in manner bornan article.   I seemed like it should be “to the manor born.”   It’s a term which usually applies to one who is affluent or privileged, and indicates that they are someone who has been raised in a category of society with large houses, staff, and lots of money to depend upon.

However, in going to Bryan Garner’s book * to check it out I found that it is a common error to confuse the two words manor and manner.  It seems that I’m not the only one who lets the photo pop up in my mind of servants, fancy clothes and expensive cars.  That would be a reference to manor.  You know, kind of like Downton Abbey.

But Garner helped clarify that the more common reference is “to the manner born.”   It turns out to be a line from Hamlet, referring to the King’s habit of drunkenness.

Though I am a native here/And to the manner born, it is a custom/More honored in the breach than the observance.”

The meaning of the term, therefore, turns out to be a reference to any “manner” from which one emerges.   If a person were to refer to the manner born it might refer to the fact that the person comes from a manner of poverty, or middle class lifestyle.   The “manner” is not specific to one class or custom.    Garner is quick to point out that the term ‘manner” cannot be a reference to a house or other piece of real estate   It has to be a reference to human behavior or experience.

In thinking this through, it seems as if one could use the term to describe having been raised in a home where reading was a high priority, or in a family where sharing all meals together is anticipated.  It is a life style, and sets a pattern for future life of the children.

We are amused when people come to a meal at our home and are shocked to discover that we use cloth napkins at all meals.   Obviously, that’s not the case for many people.   In both of our childhood homes it was the norm, and we might say that it is a carry-over to the manner born.   Neither of us was raised in affluence.   But in both of our childhood homes there were some characteristics of expectation, such as cloth napkins, which have been ingrained in our habits relating to meals.**

Garner also points out that there is a good example of this phrase being subject to a pun.   In a BBC program in the 80’s the title, To The Manor Born, was used as a pun to explain the circumstances of the lead character whose life takes her from living in the manor house to a smaller house on the property, and then back to the manor through marriage.

In any case, to the manner born is a great phrase to be used sparingly in writing.   But it is important to use the “correct” spelling to indicate what is intended by its use.



Photo Credit:  Istock

*Bryan Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage, p. 525

**To be honest, there are times, like pizza nights, when paper napkins do find their way into our mealtime.

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