Is there a distinction between whiskers and beards?
I’m not sure I would have ever thought so, but for an article I read many years ago which pointed out that men sporting facial hair who happened to have the reputation for being ne’er do wells, villainous, or simply in disrepute were more often than not described as wearing whiskers. Whereas, men with facial hair who were admired, of high character, and just all around good guys were adorned with beards.
On October 15, 1860, 11 year old Grace Bedell of Westfield, NY wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, who at the time was running for the office of President of the United States. In it, she wrote:
“I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin.“
Within a month, Lincoln had grown a full beard, softened his visage, and shortly became the 16th President. It’s interesting to note that after assuming the office, his “whiskers” were thereafter most often referred to as a beard. At least by those residing above the Mason-Dixon Line.
I’ve grown a few beards in my time, at least five that I can recall. I’m referring to them as beards because I’m presuming that I don’t qualify as a ne’er do well. Two were grown during my college days, two during my working career, and the last being the one I’m now maintaining.
Due to my Scottish highland ancestry, the two college era beards were of a reddish, auburn hue, while the two grown during my middle years slowly morphed into shades of light brown. As you can see, my current effort has taken on a somewhat more philosophical shade of white.
I seem to think much more deeply about things since I began to let it grow a few weeks ago. As such, I can’t decide whether the beard makes me look more like Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, or Sigmund Freud. Others have suggested that perhaps Gabby Hayes would be the better comparison.
As a footnote, the mustache adorning my upper lip has been in place without interruption since 1973. Beards, and/or whiskers, may come and go, but the ‘stache is here to stay.
But back to whiskers vs beards. Facial hair on men is quite common these days, but I rarely if ever hear it described as whiskers. I’m quite confident that this is not due to a general decline in the numbers of ne’er do wells and villains. On the contrary, those numbers are decidedly on the increase. I can only assume that the term whiskers has fallen out of use due to the never ending evolution of language and the words we choose to use.
fugitive from justice.”
– Craig Brown