27

Opening doors, offering to pay the tab, helping with a coat or a light of the smoke: we may describe these acts of a man to be gentlemanly.

In a word, how may we describe these acts of any person?

marked as duplicate by Tim Lymington supports Monica, ermanen, David M, Marv Mills, 200_success Jun 17 '15 at 17:18

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  • 12
    Polite, considerate, genteel, attentive. (However, in certain cultures, e.g. North America, if a woman were to open doors for a man it would be considered none of the above—unless the man was handicapped or disabled.) And even the other gestures (paying for the mesl, for example) might still be thought unusual for a woman, and considered to be exhibiting non-acceptance of the old norms of chivalry; such a woman might be said to be liberated or egalitarian – Brian Hitchcock Jun 14 '15 at 8:06
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    @BrianHitchcock I don't think that gender divide still exists everywhere in the US, at least where I live it's common for a woman to hold a door open for a man (but I'd rather just not have anyone doing that…) – bjb568 Jun 15 '15 at 18:06
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    @BrianHitchcock ...Perhaps it's just my being Canadian, but I'm a man and a woman has at some point done all those things for me. It's unexceptional up here, really. – Anonym Jun 16 '15 at 2:32
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    @BrianHitchcock, although I believe your word recommendations were good, I wholeheartedly disagree with your sentiment concerning any North American bias against women opening doors, picking up tabs, or any other thoughtful act of kindness expressed toward men. Thoughtful "gentlemanly* disciplines must be trained into men by external cultural mandate, because we tend to be thoughtless brutes otherwise, but women have always done these things intuitively. A well trained man strives to initiate the cycle of kindness with the women in his life, but never rejects a graceful reciprocation. – ScotM Jun 16 '15 at 3:01
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    @BrianHitchcock I have to admit I find both your comment and Scott's equally disturbing. I have never found myself in a society where a woman holding a door open for a man is seen as anything other than basic, normal politeness. Gender has nothing to do with it! If I were walking up to a door and the woman who went before me didn't bother to hold it open for me I'd simply consider her rude. – terdon Jun 16 '15 at 11:54

19 Answers 19

66

I'd go with courteous, the etymology of which also hints at a closer fit to gentlemanly than, say, decorous, polite, or respectful.

  • I like this option (although I don't really see what all the "gender" fuss is about). I think it's the best suggested so far. – Leni Nawocam Jun 15 '15 at 15:36
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    Not sure if it's fuss, but it doesn't seem appropriate to describe behaviour of somebody you don't know is a man or a woman as gentlemanly. – Martijn Jun 16 '15 at 9:40
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    This is definitely the best option, as it has its origin in "manners fit for a royal court". Source: oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/courteous – Tim Clarke Jun 16 '15 at 23:26
53

I think well-mannered is close to the idea of politeness and good upbringing that gentlemanly suggests:

  • polite; courteous. (AHD)

  • of good upbringing

The Free Dictionary

27

Gracious describes a kind, considerate woman and can also be applied to a man.

gracious
pleasantly kind, benevolent, or courteous.

Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010

  • 1
    This is probably the only answer so far that comes close. – aaa90210 Jun 15 '15 at 3:59
  • Gracious implies a response, though, whereas the acts referred to in the question (paying a bill, helping with a coat, lighting a cigarette) are more pre-emptive – the person offering help has not been asked for that help. Thus, I feel courteous is a better word: oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/courteous – Tim Clarke Jun 16 '15 at 23:24
17

I like deferential, because the acts you are describing (holding the door, offering to pay the tab, etc.) are polite ways to put someone else's needs or wants a little higher than your own.

One dictionary defines the word as "respectful and considerate" – two words which seem to encompass dual aspects of being gentlemanly.

As a footnote, the first word that sprung to mind was chivalrous, but I figured that wasn't much more neutral than gentlemanly, so I struck it from my list rather quickly.

  • 3
    This answer is the closest so far, because it recognizes these acts are not simple ones of politeness, but putting someone else's needs above your own. Although the word "gentlemanly" is more contextual and relates specifically to relations between men and women. – aaa90210 Jun 15 '15 at 3:56
16

Genteel

As others have mentioned in prior comments, this is one of the closest words to gentlemanly, in part because the words are cognate:

GEN'TLEMAN, n. [gentle, that is, genteel, and man. So in fr. gentilhomme, It. gentiluoumo, Sp. gentilhombre. See Genteel.]

Genteel is already an adjective describing a certain sort of behavior, so using the -ly suffix to try and make it into such an adjective likening it with something with that characteristic behavior like a Gentleman would be redundant, and besides that, the -ly suffix operates differently on nouns than it does on adjectives. It renders nouns into adjectives, and adjectives into adverbs, so while you might describe a person or behavior as gentlemanly, you would only use genteelly to modify the manner in which an action is done as in "he genteelly held the door open."

In order to determine that this word may be applied to females, do take special note the third definition and its example:

  1. "Graceful in mein or form; elegant; as the lady has a genteel person."

Ladies are of course inherently female and opposite the gender of the Gentleman. Unless I am mistaken, I believe Person in this context, is being used to mean "Positive Character of Office", rather than possessing another person who is genteel.

It is still used today, albeit very rarely. The obscurity of the word is probably part of why "Gentlemanly" has grown so much more popular, with another factor being gender segregated expectations. Although the word itself is not gendered, the expectations of proper masculine or feminine manners often are. The difference is cultural, rather than lingual, so it would apply to virtually any substitute. Nevertheless, anybody exhibiting the appropriate behavior may be considered genteel.

It should be noted that today "Genteel" can have aristocratic connotations as well. Sometimes this can have pejorative effect since even by the time of Noah Webster, there was disdain for the Gentlefolks and I believe that sentiment has only grown as egalitarianism became an increasingly venerated principle. As such the word might nearly as often be used to negative effect, to gibe at what we'd now call (stubborn) "Elitism" as it is genuinely used, at the user's discretion.

Also, Consider Using Gentlemanly Anyway

Since, as I mentioned before, social expectations differing between males and females, another considerable answer is Gentlemanly, which I will presume to be a word you already know well. Since the suffix "-ly" only indicates a resemblance or likeness to the thing specified, a person only has to be similar to the thing specified. Similarity implies that some amount of dissimilarity is permitted, since otherwise it would instead be called identical. I would almost wager that few people are willing to argue that a Gentleman isn't defined just as much, if not even much more so by his behaviors than his gender, so omission of the gender detail might have tentative permissibility in some otherwise more exacting contexts.

This supposition is validated by this actual instance of such a use from page 100 of The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens (1843):

'It was considered so once,' said Mrs. Todgers, warming herself in a gentlemanly manner at the fire 'but I hardly thought you would have known it, my loves.'

Granted, this context might not have been made in reference to the exact same sense of the word you mean, since she is not doing anybody any favors by warming herself even, if she has the air of a gentleman while doing so. Nevertheless, it does go to show that the word can be used to describe to women too, as demonstrated by the excerpt's feminine honorific and pronoun.

Despite that, it may seem odd to suggest a woman is gentlemanly and if she prides her femininity, she may take offense. Nevertheless, this may be the only way to effectively overcome the usual cultural expectations that may separate the expected mannerisms of the sexes. Exercise your better discrimination and make a character judgement before doing this.


Except as otherwise noted, all of the links and definitions are used to refer to The American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster (1828). Please note that the quoted portion is incorrectly reproduced in the initial link for Gentleman, and I referenced a hardcopy facsimile edition with an I.S.B.N. of 978-0-912498-03-4 for a correct quotation..

-ly references Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, (1913).

Negative Connotations for Genteel can be seen in The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

Elitism refers to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (©2003, 2007), which still shares its definitions with Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary.

  • So I suppose you're saying that gentlemanly woman isn't necessarily an oxymoron (or, if not that, at least saying that a woman wouldn't be excluded from exhibiting gentlemanly behavior merely by virtue of her gender). I was wondering when someone might bring that up. – J.R. Jun 15 '15 at 14:28
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    That's the gist of it. I do not deny it's an oxymoron. Oxymora are tolerable though, so long as they do not make a pure mess; especially when lacking apt substitutions. I believe the noun usually controls over the adjective in cases like this too. Consider the brutal man for instance; he is not literally a beast but he is nevertheless considered like one. – Tonepoet Jun 16 '15 at 1:27
11

That's just basic politeness:

showing good manners toward others, as in behavior, speech, etc.; courteous; civil: a polite reply.

(definition from dictionary.com)

So, you would call such a person polite.

  • 1
    I don't know… holding the door for someone behind you is politeness; offering to pay the bill for someone is more than just being polite. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 16 '15 at 9:32
  • @JanusahsJacquet offering to pay seems to me like basic politeness. In the cultures I am most familiar with, this usually results in the bill being shared. But yes, I was thinking more about holding doors open, helping with coats etc. – terdon Jun 16 '15 at 11:57
  • Yes, the offer is politeness (and in some cultures absolutely expected and not foregoable), but actually paying is more than that, though I do see the question says “offering to pay”, not “paying”. Actually paying does fit perfectly with the notion of gentlemanliness, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 16 '15 at 12:14
  • @JanusBahsJacquet true, but as you said, the question only mentions the offer. I see that as basic politeness. – terdon Jun 16 '15 at 12:15
11

Urbane: "Polite, refined, and often elegant in manner." — The American Heritage Dictionary, fifth edition.

  • From the same root as urban, meaning "of the city" – superluminary Jun 15 '15 at 9:23
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    Yes, an urbane person exhibits traits of townspeople as opposed to countryfolks (I know, it's a bit of stereotype) – RexYuan Jun 15 '15 at 10:07
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    @RexYuan Beware of the etymological fallacy. – Barmar Jun 15 '15 at 19:25
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    Most city folk are anything but "urbane" – Floris Jun 17 '15 at 4:12
  • @Barmar, Floris True, and true – RexYuan Jun 17 '15 at 4:32
8

One possibility not previously mentioned is cultured, which the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition (2003) defines as follows:

cultured adj. Educated, polished, and refined; cultivated.

As with urbane (noted in RexYuan's answer), the crucial element here is the sense of polish and refinement.

Another, more problematic possibility is chivalrous ("Characterized by consideration and courtesy, especially toward women" according to AHDES), a term that probably crosses the line into implicit gender-specificity, owing to its origin as a description of knightly behavior—as the "especially toward women" element of the definition here suggests. Still the mental picture of a woman described as "chivalrous" (Loan of Arc comes to mind) is quite different from that of a woman described as "gentlemanly" (Marlene Dietrich in a top hat and tailcoated suit). Gallant ("Courteously attentive especially to women; chivalrous") is likewise probably too gender-conscious to serve as a neutral substitute for gentlemanly.

  • 2
    +1 for chivalrous - while it'd be slightly unusual to apply it to a woman it wouldn't seem wrong and the meaning fits. Cultured, however, is used more for educated and refined than courteous or chivalrous (particularly, knowledgeable about highbrow culture). It's perfectly possible for someone to be cultured and boorish (and quite common for someone to be cultured and snooty or condescending). – user56reinstatemonica8 Jun 15 '15 at 11:34
  • Agreed on the +1 for chivalrous - that's the first thing that came to my mind. – Ghotir Jun 15 '15 at 21:47
8

Considerate:

adj.

  1. showing kindly regard for the feelings or circumstances of others; thoughtful.

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, emphasis added

It was very considerate of her to open the door for her husband, who was carrying their luggage.

7

The word graceful could be used of gentlemanly acts done by either a man or woman:

adjective

Having or showing grace or elegance:

ODO

Graceful is derived by the suffix -ful added to the root grace:

2 Courteous good will:

ODO

Graceful behavior can usually be boiled down to small considerate kindnesses.


NB: Gentlemanly is one of those few words that ends in -ly, but is not actually used as an adverb very often:

adjective

1.0 Chivalrous, courteous, or honorable:
his gentlemanly behavior

1.1 Befitting a gentleman: a gentlemanly profession

ODO

5

The word genteelly does exist (Oxford Dictionaries Online), and it seems to me as close to a non-gendered gentlemanly as you are going to get.

  • 6
    genteelly is an adverb; the answer should probably just be genteel. – Random832 Jun 14 '15 at 17:16
  • @Random832 Yes, while gentlemanly serves as both adjective and adverb, genteel is the adjective and genteelly the adverb. – WS2 Jun 16 '15 at 8:48
  • @Tonepoet My point was that "gentlemanly" is not an adverb, or at least not always. – Random832 Jun 16 '15 at 11:17
  • @Random832 You may be right. When we see a word ending ...ly we automatically take it to be adverbial. But you have got me wondering. Could it qualify a verb? Could we say John behaved gentlemanly in the circumstances or would we be obliged to say John behaved in a gentlemanly fashion...? – WS2 Jun 16 '15 at 11:57
  • Ah, I'm sorry. I misread that several times over somehow! "He gentlemanly held the door open." seems familiar enough but it does not seem entirely right either. I certainly would not say "He knightly held the door open." although I might say "He chivalrously held the door open." Would the the fact that the base word is a noun, block its formation into an adverb in this manner? – Tonepoet Jun 16 '15 at 13:42
5

Thoughtful:

adjective

2 Showing consideration for the needs of other people:

Oxford Dictionaries Online

Men and women should compete to outdo each other with thoughtful generosity.

1

Kindness; simple human kindness.

  • Would the adjective kind or the adjective kindly be preferable? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 15 '15 at 18:29
  • Is kindly not an adverb? @EdwinAshworth – gelolopez Jun 15 '15 at 19:32
  • @gelolopez I'm tempted to answer 'Yes', but I'd better be more explicit "... but not when it's an adjective'. look it up. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 15 '15 at 21:02
  • ahaha. pardon about my ignorance. I haven't slept yet. But thanks :) – gelolopez Jun 15 '15 at 21:03
  • I really ought to be more precise. There are two intercategorial polysemes (which some would analyse as being different words) 'kindly'; one is an adverb, the other an adjective. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 15 '15 at 21:05
1

The Oxford Dicitonary of English by Angus Stevenson (see: O.D.O.) defines cordial as meaning:

cor·dial adjective

1.warm and friendly.
"the atmosphere was cordial and relaxed"

0

generous

If you are paying for someone else's dinner, you are being generous.

  • That's only one of many different acts that constitute behavior that is called "gentlemanly". Would you call someone holding open a door "generous"? If not, then this is not a good fit for what the OP wants. – Marthaª Jun 16 '15 at 18:39
0

Noble is another word with similar and non-gender-specific connotations. In addition to the class-based meaning (nobility and gentry being effectively equivalent), there is a more religious form of nobility.

The Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo, Sanskrit: āryāṣṭāṅgamārga) is one of the principal teachings of the Buddha, who described it as the way leading to the cessation of suffering (dukkha) and the achievement of self-awakening. - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path

Here ariyo has other meanings: Honourable, respectable, venerable, noble, excellent, eminent, holy, sanctfied (source). As you might have guessed by ear, this particular root word has more recently taken on some less auspicious meanings. However, depending on your aims, noble or nobility may have some use.

0

I know there are a million answers already, but nobody has mentioned courtly: "Polite and graceful in a formal way" (M-W).

0

It's generally considered informal (and possibly low-register) but classy is a non-gendered term that can convey a similar constellation of style, manners and sophistication to the word gentlemanly.

0

Opening doors, offering to pay the tab, helping with a coat or a light of the smoke: we may describe these acts of a person as etiquette.

code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group."


This is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Etiquette which is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0 terms.

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