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Can someone help me unpack this part of Sting's Englishman in New York?

If "Manners maketh man" as someone said

Then he's the hero of the day

It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile

Be yourself no matter what they say

I'm talking specifically about the first two lines. I am unsure about whether saying the quote makes someone a hero or the meaning of the quote itself.

I tried to deconstruct the sentence but I'm stumped.

So I tried to remove a part:

The version If "Manners maketh man", then he's the hero of the day works in itself, would make it clear that he and someone must be different people. The meaning would be that if the quote is correct, then an unspecified "he" is a hero.

Another way to deconstuct the sentence would be If someone said x, then he's the hero of the day. But I think grammatically this is not what the lyrics say because the sentence seems to be structured so that the content of the quote makes the hero, not the fact that is was uttered.

Could someone help me understand this part of the song? Is Sting taking some grammatical liberties to fit the constraint of the melody? What is he trying to say?

Addendum: For context, the quote above is the third verse, which comes right after the chorus, so I believe the verse stands pretty much by itself. But if we wanted to use the Chorus as a reference, it uses first person perspective, so I don't see any reference to who he could be.

Here is the chorus:

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien

I'm an Englishman in New York

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien

I'm an Englishman in New York

The first two verses use the same perspective.

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  • Lyrics often stretch/overstretch the accepted boundaries of word usage and grammar. I think the referent has to be 'Then the man in question is the hero of the day'. This man is hopefully mentioned in a previous verse; this context needs to be given (though I'd say the lyrics could well be too far from standard English for this to be on-topic on ELU). Apr 5 at 13:59
  • I assume it means he is very strong on manners (i.e. he does all the mannerly things) and therefore is very much a man. The English are often associated with mannerly behaviour (although obviously it varies.) Questions about interpreting lyrics normally go on Literature SE.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 5 at 14:04
  • @EdwinAshworth That's what I thought, but the man in question is never mentioned directly prior or later, that's what confused me. But as the accepted answer stated, this is likely the I from the chorus so the perspective changed here.
    – Cerno
    Apr 5 at 15:41
  • @StuartF You are probably right, I thought I was missing an aspect of the English grammar here, but it turns out the grammar is fine and the question would indeed be better suited for a different SE. Thanks for the hint.
    – Cerno
    Apr 5 at 15:43

1 Answer 1

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The song is about an "Englishman in New York", and the "he" in the line is that person. (It transitions to "I" being that person in the chorus. That may be because the verse is about a generic "Englishman in New York" and the chorus is establishing that the singer is one of them.)

The meaning of the first two lines is:

If it is true, as someone said, that "manners maketh man" (i.e. that having good manners is the mark of a real man) then "he" (the "Englishman in New York") is a real hero - presumably because he is an outstanding example of good manners under trying circumstances (New Yorkers not being noted for their good manners).

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  • Thank you, that makes sense. The song is changing perspectives so often i confused me (from I'm an Englishman in New York to he's the hero of the day to be yourself no matter what they say
    – Cerno
    Apr 5 at 15:40

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