Manner/manor dilemma?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Mar 13 17:35:10 UTC 2002

At 12:16 PM -0500 3/13/02, Richard Gage wrote:
>On Wed, 13 Mar 2002 at 10:44:26,  Laurence Horn wrote:
>      Elsie Fogerty . . . 'taught her [Irene Worth] to speak "stage
>      English," as if to-the-manner -- and manor -- born . . . (Note
>      . . . the Times's solution to the manner/manor dilemma.)
>What is this "manner/manor dilemma" you refer to?  I looked for more in
>the postings, but didn't find anything.  Where can I go to read more
>about it?

It may be on Michael Quinion's site or some other phrase origin site,
but I haven't checked.

>By strange coincidence I came across this very phrase the
>other day in E.L. Doctorow's first-person narrative "Billy Bathgate."  I
>just assumed Billy didn't know any better.
>1989 E. L. DOCTOROW, _Billy Bathgate_. Chapter 7, pp.93-94.
>"But anyway I put forty dollars in her pocketbook that night, which left
>me with a little over twenty-five.  I found I was getting used to these
>big sums, handling these bills as if I was to the manner born.  It is
>true that you get accustomed to money very quickly, that the
>miraculousness of the idea of it wears away and it becomes
>unremarkable.  Yet my mother's salary at the laundry was twelve dollars
>a week and that money remained miraculous in my mind, which is to say
>valuable in the old way, as my own earnings by their profligacy were

This is one of the most natural folk etymologies on record.  In fact,
Billy B's "to the manner born" is the original version, as occurs
e.g. in Shakespeare.  This is from Hamlet I.iv:


       Is it a custom?


       Ay, marry, is't:
       But to my mind, though I am native here
       And to the manner born, it is a custom
       More honour'd in the breach than the observance.

The original "manner" version still has a higher google score than
the reanalyzed version, "to the manor born", but both are quite
frequent.  (The score is "about 1,110,000" to "about 133,000".)


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