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Etiquette

ETIQUETTE.

The practice of etiquette has been central to all cultures and civilizations because it functions to establish boundaries of proper comportment in the realm of social relations and hierarchies. The Bible contained imperatives to regulate indecorous behavior, with the Book of Ecclesiastes advising one to "Eat as it becometh a man and devour not, lest thou be hated," while in the Talmud, the importance of controlling the self's more primal urges is asserted in enjoinments against licking fingers, belching, drinking wine in one gulp, or giving off "an offensive odor." Even more important was the manner in which etiquette prescribed deference toward teachers, elders, social superiors, and those at the center of power; according to an Egyptian conduct book dating from 2000 b.c.e., not only is it "worthy" when a "son hearkens to his father," but so should one practice flattery towards a superior, for example, by "laugh[ing] when he laughs."

A Civilizing Process

Though the Middle Ages in Europe witnessed the harnessing of knights to a code of chivalry and the flourishing of a romance troubadour culture demanding particular rules of conduct, it was the Renaissance that brought social codes and conventions to new heights of importance. Courts now served elites and sycophants as thriving centers of power, requiring the ability to fashion one's identity and climb the social ladder in a frequently precarious, if not treacherous, milieu. With the development of the printing press, courtesy books such as Giovanni della Casa's Il Galateo (1560) flourished to meet a growing demand, but it was Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (1528) that most brilliantly epitomized the rules by which the perfect courtierurbane, witty, sporty, educated, and discreteshould live. In a world dependent upon networks of patronage and the dispensing of favors, right manners at the table or on the playing field were an essential aspect of self-projection along the trajectory of personal and professional advancement.

Manners preoccupied early modern intellectuals as well, most notably Desiderius Erasmus (1466?1536), whose De civilitate morum puerilium (1530; On civility in boys) was one of the most influential and best-selling treatises of the sixteenth century. Underneath Erasmus' injunctions that boys not eat with their mouths open or cast sidelong glances at others were deeper issues concerning self-regulation and emerging notions of shame that centered upon the body. It was the sociologist and social historian Norbert Elias who most seminally examined this shift from the Middle Ages in individual self-restraint and bodily control and labeled it a "civilizing process"; according to Elias, the emergence in the early modern period of the state, with its monopoly over physical force and its growing social interdependencies, resulted in a transformation of human relationships and with it "corresponding changes in men's manners [and] in their personality structure, the provisional result of which is our form of 'civilized' conduct and sentiment." The theory, while not without its criticswho declared it Eurocentric, misrepresentative of history, or overly teleologicalnevertheless witnessed from the 1970s onward a resurgence of interest among anthropologists and historians, who found in it a guiding framework in understanding the history of the body, power relations, social and gender relations, the history of private life, and the larger connection between historical currents and social and psychological processes.

Elias paid particular attention to the relationship between manners and the rise of the absolutist state, and certainly Louis XIV's seventeenth-century court at Versailles constituted another defining moment in the history of etiquette and the French notion of civilité. According to the court observer Saint-Simon, the king cast a watchful eye over his realm of co-opted noblemen, projecting his royal aura through material ostentation, expecting flattery even from his preachers, and spending equal time on cookery as on politics. Knowing "how to make the most of a word, a smile, even a glance," Louis, by addressing another with some trifling remark, could cause "all eyes [to turn] on the person so honored," just as he could with equal frivolity "ruin many men in all ranks of life." The emphasis on protocol and display and on competing for the king's favor also served to reinforce a larger centralization of power, since, as Saint-Simon puts it, the king "compelled his courtiers to live beyond their income, and gradually reduced them to depend on his bounty for means of subsistence."

As notable figures at court, women could also play a significant role in determining the tone of conduct that would prevail; the highly educated and needlepointing (though occasionally crude) Elizabeth I (15331603), for example, oversaw such well-bred, neochivalric luminaries as Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. Women, however, were more frequently the intended audience for courtesy book writers, who sought to instill values of proper wifeliness, including compliance, modesty, and, according to one seventeenth-century English guidebook, protectiveness (or "extreme tender[ness]") toward the husband's reputation. Civility in this respect represented the confluence of manners with morals as well as the assertion of social control and structures of dominationall of which would continue through the proliferating etiquette and domestic-life books of the nineteenth century.

Manners in Modern Times

The eighteenth century continued to advance a program of proper court behavior, with the influential Lord Chesterfield (16941773) coining the term etiquette in letters to his son that spoke of the "art of pleasing" at court and the necessity of cultivating "that easy good breeding, that engaging manner, and those graces, which seduce and prepossess people in your favour at first sight." It was this kind of naked and cynical self-aggrandizement that caused the backlash by Dr. Samuel Johnson (17091784), who claimed that the letters instilled in readers "the morals of a strumpet with the manners of a dancing master." Rather than simply reflecting the privileged if arbitrary codes of the aristocratic class, however, manners were also seen in the eighteenth century as reinforcing stability in society, with Edmund Burke (17291797) stating famously that "Manners are more important than laws. Upon them the laws depend," and John Locke (16321704) similarly connecting good conduct with the stability and health of a democratic polity.

The art of social decorum nevertheless suffered further reputational damage with the Romantic movement and its more rough-hewn ideals of authenticity. Not only was society itself perceived by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and (17121778) others as a realm of corrupt artifice opposed to more truthful nature, but they considered that the manners on which that society depends expedite the process of self-alienation. At the same time, the nineteenth century gave rise in England and America to a surging middle class and a new ethic of the sentimental and domestic that allowed ideals of behavior to take on new forms and vibrancy. Where before etiquette had been associated with the aristocratic class, it now became diffused among a broader, albeit still privileged, middle class. To know the rulesthat coffee was not to be served at the dinner table, that introductions were to be handled in a particular way, that one took one's place in a quadrille at the front rather than the back of the ballroommarked one's place in the world as being on the inside of social privilege; to be otherwise was to be "vulgar" or "common" and coldly cast out.

In the New World, Americans' manners, such as hastily eating (or "devouring") their food, particularly galled the English, with Charles Dickens (18121870) describing Washington, D.C., as the "headquarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva" shooting forth from the mouths of "not always good marksmen." Nevertheless, Americans, and particularly women, proliferated as authors of etiquette manuals, which counseled on housework, child-raising, personal grooming, and marriage as well as entering polite society. In this regard America undertook its own "civilizing process," trafficking in lifestyle aspirations under the stern but gentle injunctions of an Emily Post, a Miss Manners, or, in its postmodern incarnation, a Martha Stewart.

See also Class ; Everyday Life ; Tradition .

bibliography

Arditi, Jorge. A Genealogy of Manners: Transformations of Social Relations in France and England from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Century. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998.

Aresty, Esther. The Best Behavior: The Course of Good Mannersfrom Antiquity to the PresentAs Seen through Courtesy and Etiquette Books. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.

Ariès, Philippe, and Georges Duby, eds. A History of Private Life. 5 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 19871991.

Bryson, Anna. From Courtesy to Civility: Changing Codes of Conduct in Early Modern England. Oxford: Clarendon, 1998.

Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994.

Sarah Covington

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etiquette

etiquette, name for the codes of rules governing social or diplomatic intercourse. These codes vary from the more or less flexible laws of social usage (differing according to local customs or taboos) to the rigid conventions of court and military circles, and they extend to the legal, medical, and other professions. All cultures include forms of etiquette; often, etiquette has been used to enforce class distinctions, as well as safeguarding against conflict in social interactions.

See J. Martin, Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (1983); E. Post, Emily Post's Etiquette (15th ed. 1992); Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette (ed. by N. Tuckerman, 1995).

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etiquette

et·i·quette / ˈetikit; -ˌket/ • n. the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

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etiquette

etiquette prescribed or conventional code of behaviour XVIII. — F. étiquette, the primary sense of which is repr. by TICKET.

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etiquette

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