Where does etiquette come from?

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Although you learned the etiquette that you know from your parents and teachers, we are almost sure that you have absolutely no idea where etiquette actually originated from. Well, if you had to guess, you might say from European royalty, which would be quite accurate.

The etiquette that is used today came from French royal courts in the 1600s and 1700s. It is actually used to mean ‘keep off the grass’. Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles was bothered by the aristocrats who were walking over his garden, and therefore he put up signs, or ‘etiquettes’ to warn them to stay off. However, the dukes and duchesses simply ignored the signs and walked right by them.

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Eventually, the king himself has to make an announcement that no one was allowed to cross the boundaries of the ‘etiquettes’. Over time, the meaning of etiquette grew to court functions as well which had rules about what to do and where to stand. Similar to language, etiquette evolved, however technically still does mean “keep off the grass.”

Prior to this, the first book written about etiquette was by Ptahhotep in 2400 B.C.  It appears as though it was meant to serve as advice for young men in Egypt who were trying to climb the social ladder at the the time.  Some of the pieces of advice included laughing when one’s superior laughs. Good manners have in fact been around for a very long time.

Even since the time where people ate with their hands, there were still proper and polite ways to do it.  In ancient Rome, someone from the lower-class would take food with all of their fingers. However, a person of higher class would only use three fingers, leaving both their little finger and ring finger out of the food. This is in fact where the raised pinkie became a sign of elitism.

Today people do not raise their pinkies because it is understood as being pretentious. Bonvicino da Riva, a Milanese monk, around 1920 wrote the first book that dealt merely with table etiquette ‘Fifty Courtesies of the Table’. Many of his rules are those that are taught to young children of today, such as not gulping food in one mouthful, turning one’s head when sneezing or coughing, not licking one’s fingers or not talking with a mouth full of food. His rules endured throughout history and this is what created American etiquette.

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Since then, there have been many American books on what etiquette entails and has expanded beyond society today. Many large businesses hire etiquette trainers to teach good manners to their employees, covering everything from how to dress, act, act and how to converse.

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