A few years ago I went to a re-enactment in Grant County of the 1812 Battle of Mississinewa between the Miami Indians and American forces.
The entire re-enactment was narrated by a man on a horse, posing as an English officer.
English military officers, the man explained, were gentlemen.
What is a gentleman? Well, if you got up that morning and made yourself a nice breakfast, you are not a gentleman. If you got out of bed in the morning and put your clothes on, you are not a gentleman, he said.
A gentleman was a man of a certain class, regarded as being superior. They had servants who did everything for them, from buttoning their shirts and putting their hats on their heads to serving them their meals.
The term gentleman is used a lot more loosely today. Just about anyone will be referred to by that courtesy title from time to time, whether it’s someone looking to buy a new suit or a guy in bib overalls at a fast-food restaurant cursing and yelling that his order was messed up.
That’s the way retailers are. Employees are instructed to strain to be polite to the most outrageous customers.
Still, sometimes people can go overboard in using the term. Call it a pet peeve of mine.
An example of going overboard is when a guy walks into a convenience store, sticks a gun in the clerk’s face and grabs a fistful of bills from the register and runs away. I’ve seen official descriptions of such incidents in which police have said that the gentleman then fled in one direction or another.
There have been newscasts about a crime that has been committed, usually an assault or robbery, and the crooks have been described as gentlemen.
A few days ago, when police were running all over town trying to track down a man who gunned a woman down on Reed Street in front of plenty of witnesses, I heard one newscast that noted that the gentleman had holed up in a house of Holton Avenue and was holding hostages.
What is this obsession with the term gentleman?
In the news business, if Joe Blow is charged with robbery, we are careful not to call him a robber. We’ll refer to him as a suspect or say that police allege that he robbed someone.
But if an unknown person robs a store, we don’t say that an alleged robber held up someone because a real, live, unknown crook did it. Still, I’ve seen lots of news reports about unknown people allegedly robbing stores, but I can overlook that.
But this term gentleman, I can’t overlook that. Gentlemen don’t rob stores and pistol whip people. They don’t gun people down over what often proves to be petty spats. Those things are the works of crooks, thugs and killers, and we ought to call them that, or at least quit calling them gentlemen.