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Manor vs. manner

March 19, 2008 | 11:44 am

A story in Business about when sexy becomes too sexy gave rise to an entirely different sort of debate among some readers whose focus is grammar, not underwear: Is it "to the manner born" or "to the manor born"?

The criticisms come in no matter which way The Times spells it (for the record, the phrase "to the manor born" has been used three times in the past three years; the spelling has been "manner" eight times).

The most recent article, which spelled it correctly, was about the CEO of Victoria's Secret revisiting the chain's reputation in light of its disappointing financial performance. A few readers got past the references to sex appeal to question the Shakespearean reference in a comment from Chief Executive Sharen J. Turney. Turney said that the brand's original story line was about a "to-the-manner-born Londoner named Victoria whose lacy underthings, we assume, were her little secret."

from Shakespeare's Hamlet we have this quote

One reader sent a sharply worded note that began, "Please suggest to the Times editorial and reporting staff to rely on something other than software spell checkers when preparing pieces for publication.... The phrase the reporter was seeking is 'to the manor born.'"

In response to him and others who have written, chief of copy desks Clark Stevens points to the "manner" spelling mandated by Bartlett's, Webster's, Evans & Evans and numerous other usage and phrase dictionaries.

Given that information, the reader quoted above asked that he not be identified by name: "I would prefer to save your acknowledgment of my attention to proper word use for an occasion when I happen to be right rather than wrong. I’m not sure my ego could withstand broadcasting my mistake to an audience of several million." (Stevens offers that "Garner's Modern American Usage face-savingly points out that some relatively recent misuse may be traceable to a British TV show that used 'Manor' in the title. But the show was about upper-class country life, and the title was a pun.")

Finally, here's a link that gives a look at the First Folio, showing Shakespeare's original use in "Hamlet."

Image courtesy the Internet Shakespeare Editions.