“The worst part of the crime was the violent manor in which it was done.”

This was from a paper on the death penalty and the Cheshire Home Invasion case, a terrible, terrible crime. I don’t want this blog post to seem to make light of that event, or of the death-penalty issue. If possible, I just want to look at the sentence qua sentence.

The center of interest in this sentence is, of course, that manor. Like yesterday’s post on costumers, this is a matter of a misspelling or wrong word choice that is in danger of becoming the preferred choice among student writers.

This violent manor isn’t the only domicile in my Book; it is a book of many manors. A number of students have referred to people speaking in a critical manor (perhaps this is bad because the large rooms amplify those obnoxious voices, or perhaps the manor itself is so pretentious as to look down its portico at all who venture in). A Virginia custody ruling that took a daughter from her father was based on the assumption that “his homosexuality was affecting his child in a negative manor” (would he have been permitted to keep her if his house had been more positive?).  I haven’t read of any manors that are pleasant, let alone opulent, hereditary, or gracious; all these manors are bad in one way or another.

The manor in today’s sentence was violent, the most active of any manor my students have written about. I pause to think of ways in which a stately home could itself be violent. Perhaps in a fairy tale, or a Gothic novel, or a short story by Poe? Might bookcases topple onto people, or floors suddenly buckle, or doors malevolently close on the fingers of passers-through? Do knives fly through the air? (In some of these cases, might not the reasonable assumption be that a poltergeist is at work, rather than that bricks and boards and mortar are to blame?) Or if the manor is the entire tract of land on which tenant farmers live, then maybe the violence comes in the form of earthquakes or frequent lightning-strikes….

If the manor is sufficiently violent, might it not be culpable for a crime that occurred under its roof? A second look at the sentence shows that the writer doesn’t call the crime itself violent, though: she just says that its setting, that violent manor, was the “worst part.” The crime my student is writing about is a home invasion that involved robbery, rape, attempted murder, murder, and arson; her sentence makes all of that horror merely secondary to the manor itself, so the manor must have been extraordinarily violent indeed to have been worse than what happened inside.

Why would a student write “manor” instead of “manner”? I just typed “maner” into a Word document as an experiment; SpellCheck offered, in this order: manner, miner, manor, manger, meaner, mane, moaner, manners. So the correct choice was also the first-offered: we can’t necessarily blame word-processing programs and typos, then, when students give us “manor” when they mean “manner.” We also can’t assume that “manor” is a more familiar spelling than “manner,” unless our writers have recently been trying to persuade their parents to enter nursing homes and have therefore been reading brochures for places named “Twilight Manor,” “Seabreeze Manor,” “Dogwood Park Manor,” and “Maturity Manor.” Or perhaps the family has just moved into a gated community. But in American society, don’t we more often choose “Mansion” to refer to imposing domestic edifices? Surely the coinage that mocks the inappropriately large and showy houses so thickly floating through the recent Real Estate Bubble caught on because it sounded so right: McMansion. McManor just doesn’t work as well. Not as familiar a term.

So the explanation must be that “manner” has become detached from “way,” “style,” “fashion” and means only “polite behavior” now, and appears mostly in the plural, manners. Neither the Cheshire home invasion nor the Virginia divorce court ruling can be said to be about polite behavior, so the word “manner” just doesn’t seem to fit. We must be talking about something that sounds like that but doesn’t look like that. “Manor” fills the bill.

When I get rich, I plan to take no risks. I shall skip manors entirely and go for a castle.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““The worst part of the crime was the violent manor in which it was done.”

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