"You better 'splain!"
Yes, I had planned on it, thanks. But it will take a couple of minutes.
I learned some interesting things recently. Going back a few hundred years, the gentleman was a kind of lower-level nobility. He had good "birth" or family background and was reasonably wealthy. One of the main criteria is that he did not have to do actual work for a living, relying on inheritance, real estate or whatever.
"One mustn't mix with the working classes! That is shameful. We must set examples and hope that they learn from their betters. Noblesse oblige." The snooty idea of nobility and social rank that equates wealth with quality of character rankles me to no end. Sorry, Zeke, I do not recognize your authority or judgment. In this regard, I do not stand for conserving the standards, I am a liberal.
Fortunately, that system faded. The distinction began slipping over the years, and things like the Reform Act of 1832 in England damaged the class of gentleman even further; it became wider. The middle class grew over the years. Gentlemen's Clubs were created (and not in the silly euphemistic way that Americans have for "strip joints"). Clubs grew phenomenally in the 1880s because more men felt that they could belong to something. The concept of Gentlemen's Clubs found its way in many corners of the world. Gentlemen fit very nicely into the ever-widening middle class.
"Why is anyone called a gentleman today, Cowboy Bob?"
| Rewind a bit. The classes required distinction, and so manners were created. Gentlemen and ladies had their code of conduct. When you are glared at for slurping your soup (rightfully so), you are violating a class distinction. Echoes of the old days when it was said, "We do not act like the commoners." Social class warfare was encouraged. As if it was not enough to be distinct by having hands that were unscarred from doing honest labor, the code of conduct further distanced the classes.
Most of the class warfare distinctions are gone when it comes to using the term "gentleman". After all, we have a far greater equalizer than Sam Colt gave us. My equalizer is green, folded and stuffed into my diamond-studded money clip. If you can pay, you can get respect. For the most part, anyway. Money is another nail in the coffin of class distinction, because you are not excluded from shops if you can pay.
These days, being a gentleman is something to which we aspire. And that means character and manners more than anything else. Sure, you can dress like a gentleman based on some current fashion trends. But the outward adornment does not define the inner character or spirit. Of course, if you have enough spare change and can afford finer clothes and such, it is nice to both look and act the part of a gentleman. But as far as my liberal attitude on this is concerned, the bricklayer can be as much a gentleman as the head of a Fortune 500 company.