“Language and etiquette have a lot in common. As a set of prescribed rules of behavior, etiquette is, just like language, a form of communication and it can often be packed with more meaning than the spoken word. But while words are known to fall on deaf ears, actions often resonate loudly.
Merriam Webster will tell you that etiquette is “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life”. A word so defined inevitably signals ceremony and restriction. When such rules are applied to a particular gender that has traditionally lacked power, the phrases ‘good breeding’ and ‘prescribed by authority’ can sound much more sinister.
Just as language is always a reflection of a society and its era, so are the words used to prescribe etiquette a mirror image of the society’s mindset. Etiquette books are a window into what we used to think and how we used to behave. They are also, by the way, a terrific resource for authors who write about the past. There are few more sincere insights into a society and how it changed than etiquette books, because they exude blind societal pride and reveal by default the rituals of the time. They’re a reminder that we’ve come a long way — and that there’s still a long way ahead.”
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