- An honor student means a student who excels in school and marked high grades. See gifted education.
Honour (or honor) comprises the reputation, self-perception or moral identity of an individual or of a group.
Honour, sex, and violence
Previously honour figured largely as a guiding principle of society, functioning as part of a code of honour for a gentleman and often coming to expression in the practice of duelling. One's honour, that of one's wife, of one's (blood-)family or of one's beloved formed an all-important issue: the archetypal "man of honour" remained ever alert for any insult, actual or suspected: for either would impugn his honour.
The concept of honour appears to have declined in importance in the modern secular West. Popular stereotypes would have it surviving more definitively in alleged "hot-blooded" Mediterranean cultures (Italian, Arab, Hispanic ...) or in more "gentlemanly" societies (like the "Old South" of Dixie). Feudal or other agrarian societies, focussed upon land use and land ownership, may tend to honour "honour" more than do deracinated industrial societies. Traces of the importance attached to honour linger in the military (officers may conduct a court of honour ) and in organisations with military echoes, such as Scouting.
"Honour" in the case of females historically related frequently to sexuality: preservation of "honour" equated primarily to maintenance of virginity, or at least to preservation of exclusive monogamy. One could speculate that feminism may have changed some linguistic usage in this respect.
Cultures of honour and cultures of law
One can contrast cultures of honour with cultures of law. From the viewpoint of anthropology, cultures of honour typically appear among nomadic peoples and herdsmen who carry their most valuable property with them and risk having it stolen, without having recourse to law enforcement or government. In this situation, inspiring fear forms a better strategy than promoting friendship; and cultivating a reputation for swift and disproportionate revenge increases the safety of your person and property. Thinkers ranging from Montesquieu to Steven Pinker have remarked upon the mindset needed for a culture of honour.
Cultures of honour therefore appear amongst Bedouins, Scottish and English herdsmen of the Border country, and many similar peoples, who have little allegiance to a national government; among cowboys, frontiersmen, and ranchers of the American West, where official law-enforcement often remained out of reach, as famously celebrated in Western movies; among the plantation culture of the American South, and among aristocrats, who enjoy hereditary privileges that put them beyond the reach of general laws. Cultures of honour also flourish in criminal underworlds and gangs, whose members carry large amounts of cash and contraband and cannot complain to the law if it is stolen.
Once a culture of honour exists, it is difficult for its members to make the transition to a culture of law; this requires that people become willing to back down and refuse to immediately retaliate, and from the viewpoint of the culture of honour this appears as a weak and unwise act.
Conceptions of honour vary widely between cultures; in some cultures, honour killings of (usually female) members of one's own family are considered justified if they have "defiled the family's honour" by marrying against one's wishes, or even by being the victims of rape. These honour killings are generally seen as a way of men using the culture of honour to control female sexuality.
In contemporary international relations, the concept of "credibility" resembles that of honour: when the credibility of a state or of an alliance appears at stake, honour-bound politicians may call for drastic measures.
Compare the concepts of integrity, face (social custom) in stereotyped Oriental cultures, or of mana in Polynesian society.
For a similar concept with many connotations opposite to honour, see shame.
"... Honour ... remains awake in us like a last lamp in a temple that has been laid to waste." — Alfred de Vigny, Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835).
"... during the time that the aristocracy was dominant, the concepts honour, loyalty, etc. were dominant, during the dominance of the bourgeoisie the concepts freedom, equality, etc." — Marx and Engels, The German Ideology.
"We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst." — C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die..." — William Goldman, The Princess Bride
"To die with honour, when one can no longer live with honour." — Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly
Honours and awards
In many countries the term honour can refer to an award given by the state. Such honours include military medals, but more typically imply a civilian award, such as a British OBE, a knighthood or membership of the French Légion d'honneur.
In medieval England, an honour could consist of a great lordship, comprised of dozens or hundreds of manors. Holders of honours (and the kings to whom they reverted by escheat) often attempted to preserve the integrity of an honour over time, administering its properties as a unit, maintaining inheritances together, etc.
The typical honour had properties scattered over several shires, intermingled with the properties of others. Usually, though, a more concentrated cluster existed somewhere. Here would lie the caput (head) of the honour, with a castle that gave its name to the honour and served as its administrative headquarters.
A lordship could consist of anything from a field or two to vast territories all over England. Thus the designation honour can distinguish the large lordship from the small. The term has particular usefulness for the eleventh and twelfth centuries, before the development of an extensive peerage hierarchy.
Traditional property-based honours in medieval England included:
Il Canto di Malavita is a collection of two recordings from PIAS of the folk music of the Calabrian Ndrangheta, an organised crime group operating in southern Italy. Members call themselves L'Onorata, the "men of honour;" the lyrics to these songs prominently feature murder and revenge against betrayers and informers, and offer a glimpse into the self-image of a culture of honour.
- Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (2 vols., Crowder, Wark, and Payne, 1777), anonymous translation
- Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin, 2002) ISBN 0670031518
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04