Sunday, July 9, 2017

What Makes Southern Manners Peculiar?

Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, born in Charleston, South Carolina, on 23 October 1831, and died in Baltimore, Maryland, on 9 January 1924. He graduated from Princeton at the age of eighteen and received a Ph. D. in classics from Gottingen at the age of twenty-one. In 1856, he became professor of Greek at the University of Virginia, and during his summer vacations, 1861-1864, he fought with the Confederate army.

Southerners live in the 18th century. This common charge is not altogether false, since the peculiar habits, customs, and meanings of words found often in the American South are found also in 18th century English authors. Such a word is manners. Most English-speaking people and some Southerners use the word now in the only senses current during the past two centuries. These meanings are designated in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as current: ‘External behaviour in social intercourse’ or ‘Polite behaviour or deportment; habits indicative of good breeding.’ But the oldest meaning for manners and the meaning which has had the longest continual use is now marked obsolete. The first citation in the OED for this meaning is dated 1225; the last citation is dated 1794, when, apparently, this sense fell out of use. The next to last citation for this meaning is dated 1757; it comes from Dr Samuel Johnson. Those who continue to use this sense, as many Southerners do, are living in the 18th century. This obsolete meaning is: ‘A person’s habitual behaviour or conduct, esp. in reference to its moral aspect, moral character.’

No comments:

Post a Comment