Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"25 Manners Kids Should Know"

When this tease popped up on a boston.com website, I thought, uh-oh, the headline writer goofed: 25 Manners Kids Should Know, it read.

But the usage was intentional, it turned out. The story -- at Parents.com -- did indeed treat manners as a countable plural: "If you reinforce these 25 must-do manners, you'll raise a polite, kind, well-liked child." And yes, the 25 were enumerated singular by singular: "Manner #17: If you bump into somebody, immediately say 'Excuse me.'" "Manner #25: Don't reach for things at the table; ask to have them passed."

According to the OED, manners in this sense -- "A person's social behaviour or habits, judged according to the degree of politeness or the degree of conformity to accepted standards" -- was once also used as a singular. But even then, it seems to have been a mass noun, not a countable: "Thoughe thou do me good, it is not good maner to abrayde me therof" (1530).

I like to think I'm adaptable, languagewise; I'm fine with to parent and to nap (transitive: to put a baby down for a nap) and to verse (to play versus: "We're versing the Tigers").  But referring to picking one's nose or slurping one's soup as "a bad manner" -- that reminds me of the faraway pen pal who once wrote me, "I have a new for you." It may take me a while to get used to "he has five bad manners."

7 comments:

Jonathon said...

I find to nap and especially to verse more objectionable than countable manners, though I'm not a fan of that one either.

The problem I'm having is figuring out how to change it without completely rewriting it.

Kay L. Davies said...

Interesting. One wonders if the author was thinking of it as "in this manner" — "Say 'excuse me' after bumping into someone, and, in this manner, you will be considered a polite person and not a common bum."

Bryan M. White said...

In school they told up that "news" stands for "north, east, west, south." I've never been sure if that was true or not. If it is true, though, that would prove that the "s" isn't there to make it plural. At any rate, the word isn't usually treated as plural. Of course, neither is "manners", so I guess we're right back we started ;)

John Cowan said...

"I have a pain in my arm."

"Oh yeah? Well, I have five pains in my arm."

Ø said...

"Manners", like "ethics" and "mathematics" and (I believe, in spite of the compass-direction legend) "news", is plural in origin.

It is unusual to say "he has many bad manners", but note that we say "his manners are atrocious"--never, I think, "his manners is atrocious".

On the other hand, we say "the news is good" and "mathematics was my favorite subject" and "the ethics of that decision is questionable". (Maybe in the last case "are questionable" is also acceptable.)

Stan said...

It's an interesting construction in a few manners of speaking.

Richard Hershberger said...

It might be constructive to compare this countable version of "manners" with the history of the word "pea". Compare it with "pease," as in the nursery rhyme about pease porridge.