So, I have not seen that ‘Kingsman’ movie with Colin Firth in it yet (although I should, because, you know, Colin Firth). But I have just been informed (hi aria-lerendeair!) that it is the source of that abominably ungrammatical but-pretending-to-be-all-fancy phrase that has been doing the rounds lately, by people thinking they are speaking Good Because Archaic And Spoken In The Most Oxbridge Accent Possible phrase, ‘Manners maketh man’.
and TV SHOWS
and PEOPLE GENERALLY
who think they can just go YAY YES YE OLDE ENGLISH I SHALL STICK SOME WORDS TOGETHER AND MAKE THEM SOUND SO BRITISH
what can I do to make it more fancy and ye olde I KNOW I CAN STICK IN SOME ‘THEE’S and some ‘-ETH’S and just generally do the grammatical equivalent of Captain Carrot’s approach to punctuation which is something like a dartboard.
here is how it works
English doesn’t conjugate verbs much. Most other languages do: eg, Italian, the present tense of ‘to make’ (infinitive ‘fare’):
io faccio, tu fai, lui/lei fa, noi facciamo, voi fate, loro fanno
English (infinitive ‘to make’):
I make, you make, he/she makes, we make, you (plural) make, they make.
See, we dropped a whole bunch of changes to the verb itself centuries back, which is why we need the pronouns nowadays to know who’s doing the action of the verb. And it gets even more complicated in other tenses or moods. But compare Old English, infinitive ‘macian’:
ic mace, þu macest, he/hit/heo macaþ, we macaþ, ye macaþ, hie macaþ.
(And in fact, it’s an irregular verb: most verbs distinguish between the third person singular - he/she - and the plural forms, by having ‘eth’ rather than ‘ath’ for the third person singular. And yes, the ‘þ’ = ‘th’, and therefore ‘þu’ = later Shakespearean ‘thou’, which is always singular and usually informal, although in far later English - eg, after the 17th century, when it starts to drop out of common usage as a familiar form of address - it becomes associated with addressing God, and therefore, paradoxically, elevated.)
THE POINT I’M MAKING HERE
‘Manners maketh man.’
By the fourteenth century, the -ath ending for third person plural verbs (’they’) had been replaced by -an, -an, or just the infinitive form (’maken’ or ‘make’), depending on your dialect. By the Early Modern English which this expression is trying to mimic, they have been replaced altogether by the infinitive (’make’). ‘Maketh’ was exclusively for the third person singular:
I make, thou makest, he/she/it maketh, we make, you (plural) make, they make.
In this sentence, ‘manners’ is the subject, okay? That means it’s the ‘thing’ governing the action of the verb, and it’s plural. That means the verb needs to be plural (ie, ‘make’ - they make). Saying ‘manners maketh man’ is exactly as grammatically correct as saying ‘we makest dinner’. It maketh (hah!) you (thee, as it’s in the accusative case, which we have also mostly forgotten except in pronouns) sound right pretentious and also inaccurate. Only now there’s this movie out there with Colin Firth saying it in the most ‘don’t you dare question my grammar’ accent you can possibly imagine, and punctuating it by the sound of badass, and aarrrgrh PEOPLE JUST STOP IT YOU CANNOT MAKE UP YOUR OWN GRAMMAR AND DISSEMINATE IT UNDER THE PRETENCE OF FANCINESS.
And don’t you dare give me that ‘language evolves and changes’ line. Yes, it does, and that’s brilliant and fun. But you don’t get to play that card at the same time as playing the ‘look how much better I am than you because I can speak ye olde English as it used to be spoken’ card.
tldr it literally says ‘Manners makes man’. That is what that sentence is doing grammatically. and then it is dressing itself up in frills to make you think it is better than you. and EVERYONE IS BUYING IT.
And yes, this applies to all of you who try to use ye olde English in your fics or wherever. Please, please, come to me (or someone who knows) and ask. I will be delighted to help you, and also to help provide period-correct vocab and sentence structure. Just don’t throw random grammar at the wrong parts of the sentence and sit back and look pleased at your fancy antiquities.