Origin of the proverb.
The origin of the proverb ‘manners maketh man’ is often said to be in the writings of a man called William Horman, who lived between 1440 and 1535. Horman was the headmaster at Eton School in England and he also taught at Winchester School in England.
Horman wrote a book known as the ‘Vulgaria’: the book’s title is a Latin word, which can be loosely translated as ‘everyday sayings’ or ‘common sayings’. Widely attested to be his most important work, the Vulgaria is a collection of common proverbs, and among them is ‘manners maketh man’.
However, the principle behind the Vulgaria is that Horman was writing down proverbs that were already in common use. Thus, it is very likely that this proverb was already popular in Britain before Horman wrote it down: it may have been in existence for centuries before Horman was born.
Note: The motto of William of Wykeham was “Manners makyth man”. William of Wykeham, the founder of Winchester college, lived between 1304 or 1324 and 1404. Since, Horman had a connection with Winchester, it is likely that he came across the motto and included it among his collection of popular sayings.
Meaning of the proverb.
The proverb ‘manners maketh man’ means that politeness and good manners are essential to humanity. Manners means being polite and cultured. Maketh here means to complete, perfect, or create. Man refers not just to men but to all humankind. So, the proverb is extolling the virtues of good manners.
This proverb is thus often used as a way to remind people to be polite. Good manners can apply to several aspects of human life, including how we speak, the words we use, our tone of voice, our gestures and our actions.
Sometimes, this proverb is taken to mean that good manners are what distinguish humans from animals. They are, quite literally, what ‘make’ us human.
The idea that manners ‘make’ human beings can be unpacked further. If make means to make perfect, good manners are the finishing touches to a human’s personality and behavior. If make means to create, the proverb is suggesting that humans are definitively created by their manners.
Yet another interpretation of the proverb has to do with habit. The proverb could be interpreted to mean that good manners or social codes of conduct shape our personalities, and that habitually acting in a certain way starts to mold and shape our personality. According to this interpretation, good manners are not just ornaments to our lives, but they actually shape how we think.
It is clear, then, that there are several different ways of understanding this proverb. All of them broadly agree that the proverb means that good manners are very important to human nature. But, depending on the interpretation, this importance could be due to any one of the below:
- Good manners’ ability to distinguish humans from animals.
- Good manners being a core part of what it is to be a good human.
- Good manners’ power to make a good person even better.
- Good manners’ power to shape our personalities.
Expansion on this idea.
Good manners may relate to older ideas about civilization. Humans have, historically, often been differentiated from other species because humans are civilized. Good manners are, it might be argued, one of the things that make us civilized. On this reading, good manners are an essential aspect of our humanity.
People have debated throughout the ages whether it is true that good manners are more than just an ornament. For some people, our manners do not have any bearing on whether we are truly good people: on this argument, we can do kind and good acts in an impolite way. These people believe that whether or not we say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ is not a deep question about how good we are.
However, for other people, how polite and civilized we are in our dealings with others does indicate something about how good a person we are. Perhaps this is because good manners demonstrate a sense of respect for other human beings: this kind of respect is at the core of many systems of morality.
Whether or not they are essential to what makes us human, good manners play an important role in keeping all aspects of social life running smoothly. Being polite and thoughtful avoids arguments. Respectful manners help us to work well with our colleagues.
Importance of the proverb.
1. Social lubrication: Good manners – for instance saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – are often described as ‘social lubrication’. This means that politeness helps society to run smoothly as it helps social interactions to go without a hitch.
2. Preventing conflict: It is amazing how much conflict can be prevented simply by being polite when we make requests of others. When we demand overbearingly that other people do something for us, they can often respond with hostility. But, when we ask politely and respectfully, they are more likely to see us as an ally.
3. The importance of outward conduct: The proverb ‘manners maketh man’ reminds us that it is important to behave in a way that demonstrates our respect for others. Of course, some people might argue that all that matters is that you are a good person inside. However, if we concentrate on demonstrating that goodness through good manners, our kind thoughts shine through for all the world to see.
4. Being part of society: Good manners are often described as being ‘civilized’. When we adhere to the notion that ‘manners maketh man’, we acknowledge that we belong to part of a civilized society in which we must all bear each other’s needs in mind and take care of each other.
5. Resolving disputes: Sometimes all that it takes to end an argument is to take a step back and introduce a more polite and respectful tone into the conversation.
6. Personal development: Remembering the proverb ‘manners maketh man’ can encourage us to attend to our personal development both in terms of our outward behavior and our inner life.
7. Making a good impression: Other people cannot read our minds, but they can see our behavior and observe our manners. If we want to make a good impression on others (whether in a professional context as we network with business contacts, or whether in a personal context as we make new friends), ensuring that we always act with good manners is a very good idea. First impressions count, and very often people react to good manners in a positive way without consciously realizing how much those good manners affected them.
This proverb is centuries old, and it reminds us to pay attention to the way in which we act in society. Many people would argued that good manners are essential if we want to demonstrate our respect for other people and to make a good impression on everyone that we meet. Having good manners is very important if everyone in society is to coexist in peace and harmony.