To the manner / manor born

This does not mean, of course, that the usage cops will drop their case against “to the manor born.” But the bottom line is that “to the manor born” means something quite different from what Shakespeare meant by “to the manner born,” so complaints about the “manner/manor” spelling shift miss the point. As the eminently sane Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Usage notes, “If someone intends a meaning that is not Shakespeare’s, why use Shakespeare’s spelling?”

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22 comments on this post.
  1. Katie Baker:

    I found “to the manner born” referring to Romney on January 18, 2012 in the NYT. Meaning, of course, “to the manor born.” So, maybe common usage will trump M-W Dictionary and logic?

  2. Maxine:

    Check out Maureen Dowd’s op-ed column in NYTimes, Wed., 1/18/12. She compares “Poppy” Bush and Mitt Romney as both being “to the manner born.” I would have much preferred that she use “manor” rather than “manner.” It seems that, as you said, “manner” in its original sense is indeed headed for extinction. If the NYTimes thinks the two meanings are synonymous, and chooses to print “manner born” in reference to Bush and Romney, who am I to argue? On the other hand, why does it bother me so??

  3. MJ:

    Shakespeare may have intended both meanings. A line of critics, several of whom were lawyers-cum-Shakespearians, stretching from William Rushton Lowes in the mid-1850s to George Malcolm Young in the late 1940s, made an argument about “though I am native here, and to the manner born, it is a custom more honour’d in the breach, than the observance” that draws on the legal understanding of the term “nativus,” which refers to a person born within a manor. As Horace Furness notes in his variorum edition, “Hamlet, therefore, may speak of Denmark, or Elsinore as the manor, himself as _nativus_, to the manor born, and the ‘heavy handed revel’ as a custom incident to the manor. ‘Manor’ is here used, probably, in a double sense.”

  4. Charmed by Mysore manners « Sandhya Mendonca says:

    […] of ‘ to the manner born’ instead of ‘to the manor born’, I would like to point them to The original phrase “to the manner born” was coined by William Shakespeare in Hamlet, Act I, […]

  5. Bruce Garr:

    I came across this discussion after finishing today’s (9/11/12) Boston Globe crossword puzzle. The answer to the clue “living royally since birth” (17 across) is “to the manner born”. Despite my initial surprise, given the Shakespearean origin of the phrase, I’ll have to allow for the correctness of the use of “manner” in this instance. Call it poetic (crossword?) license.

  6. Kathy B:

    I am looking for a word or phrase that is similar to this one, but not in English. I have read it and heard it, once each, but did not retain it. It’s in Latin or French, I think. I believe it describes the attitude of nobility who see their place, status, privilege as God-given. It is either Renaissance or medieval and I think the reference I read was in England. Been scratching my head on this one for quite awhile. Would love any help you can offer. It’s NOT noblesse oblige.

  7. Peter:

    Could it be “porphyrogenitos” or “porphyrogenite” you’re looking for? It means “born in the purple” in Greek and was used as a legitimizing honorific by Byzantine emperors who were born (in the purple birthing room) while their fathers were still reigning. Wikipedia and Wiktionary have pages explaining the term.

  8. Penelope:

    “In the mid-19th century, however, a variant of “to the manner born” appeared. “To the manor born,” ….. (“Not unequivocally to the manor born, he allied himself by marriage … and personal preference with the first families of Virginia,” 1962).”
    I believe you meant mid 20th century, this being the 21st (I’m seeing this error a lot lately). Another reason, and perhaps a primary source of the error, was a British comedy that started in 1979. “To the Manor Born” played on the ‘manner’ phrase and of course it was about the lives of aristocrats. I have to admit that as a quasi word nerd I actually got this wrong (i.e. thought the sitcom title was the real expression), which is what let me to your site. In fact, I’ve sheepishly found a couple of eggcorns in my vocab recently – including ‘hone in’ instead of ‘home in’ and while I’ve never given a ‘kudo’ I certainly once thought it was something that just came in plural.

  9. Carlton Reynolds:

    It is clear from the context of the original usage that it was referring to ‘manor’ as Hamlet had already stated he was a native, he was obviously alluding to his nobility. Custom was established and nurtured the nobility and was not as important to the ‘commoners’.

    Penelope, the usage is like that of compliment, always in the plural, so that is why you incorrectly inferred that the singular did not exist. The phrase ‘every little make a muckle’ was wrongly written in a book by George Washington as ‘every mickle make a muckle’, both words having the same meaning, thus rendering the phrase meaningless!

  10. Sheryl:

    Kathy B: are you thinking of the French phrase “noblesse oblige”?

  11. Sheryl:

    Ha ha- sorry- neglected to read your last sentence!

  12. The Fate of Summering | Portland Dispatches:

    […] plausible answer is two generations. (But I’d like to think that people born to the manor are those most keenly aware that this usage is terribly antique and may paint the speaker as some […]

  13. Liam Hohn:

    What fun! In the case of the NYT article on the Romneys manner seems more appropriate.

  14. sjbrogan:

    Good response and well written. Thank you very much. Appreciate the effort that went into this.

  15. Kirsten Foster:

    are you thinking of ‘droit de seigneur’ – though its meaning doesn’t match what you’re looking for?
    or ‘divine right of kings’, which means what you describe, but is not in latin or french?
    you might have read ‘per me reges regnant’

  16. Rodney:

    I’m not so sure he didn’t mean “19th.”

    He wrote: “In the mid-19th century, however, a variant of “to the manner born” appeared…. In any case, “to the manor born” spread rapidly and is by far more commonly seen today (“Not unequivocally to the manor born, he allied himself by marriage … and personal preference with the first families of Virginia,” 1962).”

    I think you’re assuming that because he began the paragraph with a reference to the 19th century and ended it with a reference to a year in the 20th century, he’s conflating the centuries. I think it’s more likely that his paragraph was meant to convey the “spread” he refers to.

  17. Rodney:

    I disagree. It’s neither clear nor obvious. You can interpret it that way, but it’s just that: an interpretation.

  18. Joan javcon:

    Thank you for an interesting definition for the word I was looking up, along with adorably witty asides.

  19. Joe:

    Clear? Clearly, a prince is not born in a manor but in a castle. Clearly, a synonym for “custom” is “common” practice. And clearly, some on this page are in need of some remedial reading lessons!

  20. jsrtheta:

    What a marvelous explication! I am embarrassed that I didn’t remember the Shakespearean origin. I am even more grateful for the succinct analysis, and the refusal to engage in knee-jerk “this is right, this is wrong” judgment.

    Just wonderful. The usage I need right now is of the “manor” variety. It is great to learn that there are in fact two different, yet valid phrases.

  21. Sharon:

    To Penelope:

    No, mid-19th Century was correct, as the first reference to “To the manor born” is in 1859.

  22. Tom:

    And to the New York Times on 8/24/2019, “Massachusetts Jolted”, page A14, the next to last paragraph, in a reference to Joseph P Kennedy it says “… to-the-manner-born rival …”

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