Sure, the presents have all been opened, the dinners havebeen eaten, the stockings probably are even now being put away–but I stillhave one Christmas post left this year.
The word gentleman does not mean today what it did a littleover one hundred years ago. I could write up a nice and neat littleetymological diatribe about the how’s and why’s of the change–but someonealready did so in a far more efficient form than I could ever hope tomanage. The following is a portion of Mere Christianity which is itself a collection of materialsshared by C.S. Lewis (at the request of Winston Churchill) over British radioduring the rampant bombings by German forces on English soil during World WarII.
The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who hada coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman”you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said hewas not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information.There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; anymore than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said-so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully-“Ah, but surely theimportant thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behavesas a gentleman should? Surely in that senseEdward is far more truly a gentleman than John?”
They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course afar better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man”a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a wayof giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “agentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to bea term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells youfacts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to thatobject. (A “nice” meal only means a mealthe speaker likes.)
A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse,objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As aresult, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say,in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannotdo so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.
Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or asthey might say “deepening,” the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedilybecome a useless word. In the firstplace, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It isnot for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spiritof Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeedforbidden to judge.
It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, aChristian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never applyis not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will nodoubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a termof praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him agood man. But that way of using the wordwill be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile,the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose itmight have served.
“God Make YouMighty, Land Owners”
That would be the more accurate title and first line of the song then. A title which would seem to suggest the importance of stewardship and responsibility over what you have been given, as well as the implication that when you have been granted much, much is required.