Best Lines in Emily Post’s Etiquette

BAD FORM! Captain Hook has literally nothing to do with Emily Post, but I think they would agree.

Emily Post published her book, Etiquette in 1922 and it was an immediate best seller, partially because it contained excellent advice and partially because it was wittily written. Some of Emily’s witticisms remain so today while some are humorously outdated. I’ve combed through the first half of the book and pulled out some of my favorites (there may be a follow up with the second half of the book…let me know in the comments if you want more!)

  • “Saccharine chirpings should be classed with crooked little fingers, high hand-shaking and other affectations. All affectations are bad form.”
  • “Who does not dislike a “boneless” hand extended as though it were a spray of sea-weed, or a miniature boiled pudding? It is equally annoying to have one’s hand clutched aloft in grotesque affectation and shaken violently sideways, as though it were being used to clean a spot out of the atmosphere. What woman does not wince at the viselike grasp that cuts her rings into her flesh and temporarily paralyzes every finger?”
  • “Nothing is so easy for any woman to acquire as a charming bow. It is such a short and fleeting duty. Not a bit of trouble really; just to incline your head and spontaneously smile as though you thought “Why, there is Mrs. Smith! How glad I am to see her!””
  • “Whether in a private carriage, a car or a taxi, a lady must never sit on a gentleman’s left; because according to European etiquette, a lady “on the left” is not a “lady.” Although this etiquette is not strictly observed in America, no gentleman should risk allowing even a single foreigner to misinterpret a lady’s position.” [Ed: Heaven forbid!!]
  • “Why a man, because he has millions, should assume that they confer omniscience in all branches of knowledge, is something which may be left to the psychologist to answer, but most of those thrown much in contact with millionaires will agree that an attitude of infallibility is typical of a fair majority.” [Ed: Eat the rich!]
  • “Not so many years ago, a lady or gentleman, young girl or youth, who failed to pay her or his “party call” after having been invited to Mrs. Social-Leader’s ball was left out of her list when she gave her next one. For the old-fashioned hostess kept her visiting list with the precision of a bookkeeper in a bank; everyone’s credit was entered or cancelled according to the presence of her or his cards in the card receiver. Young people who liked to be asked to her house were apt to leave an extra one at the door, on occasion, so that theirs should not be among the missing when the new list for the season was made up—especially as the more important old ladies were very quick to strike a name off, but seldom if ever known to put one back.”
  • “In a ball dress a lady of distinction never leans back in a chair; one can not picture a beautiful and high-bred woman, wearing a tiara and other ballroom jewels, leaning against anything. This is, however, not so much a rule of etiquette as a question of beauty and fitness.”
  • “Acceptances or regrets are always written. An engraved form to be filled in is vulgar—nothing could be in worse taste than to flaunt your popularity by announcing that it is impossible to answer your numerous invitations without the time-saving device of a printed blank.” [Ed: Oh man, aren’t you glad we can just text now?]
  • “But the “mansion” of bastard architecture and crude paint, with its brass indifferently clean, with coarse lace behind the plate glass of its golden-oak door, and the bell answered at eleven in the morning by a butler in an ill fitting dress suit and wearing a mustache, might as well be placarded: “Here lives a vulgarian who has never had an opportunity to acquire cultivation.”” [Ed: I am absolutely bringing back the term “vulgarian.”]
  • “Be very careful though. Do not mistake modern eccentricities for “art.” There are frightful things in vogue to-day—flamboyant colors, grotesque, triangular and oblique designs that can not possibly be other than bad, because aside from striking novelty, there is nothing good about them.”
  • “The fact that you live in a house with two servants, or in an apartment with only one, need not imply that your house lacks charm or even distinction, or that it is not completely the home of a lady or gentleman.” [Ed: But Emily, can my home be the home of a lady if I have NO servants? Asking for a friend.]
  • “The garden party is merely an afternoon tea out of doors. It may be as elaborate as a sit-down wedding breakfast or as simple as a miniature strawberry festival.” [Ed: Nothing about a miniature strawberry festival sounds simple.]
  • “If your house has a great Georgian dining-room, the table should be set with Georgian or an earlier period English silver” [Ed: Obviously.]
  • “As soon as the guests are seated and the first course put in front of them, the butler goes from guest to guest on the right hand side of each, and asks “Apollinaris or plain water!” and fills the goblet accordingly. In the same way he asks later before pouring wine: “Cider, sir?” “Grape fruit cup, madam?” Or in a house which has the remains of a cellar, “Champagne?” or “Do you care for whiskey and soda, sir?”” [Ed: This is funny because the book was written during Prohibition, and you don’t really think, when thinking about Prohibition, about the consequences for etiquette- what do you do with all your different wine glasses and what do you serve with a fancy dinner?]
  • “A guest helps himself with his fingers and lays the roll or bread on the tablecloth, always. No bread plates are ever on a table where there is no butter, and no butter is ever served at a dinner.” [Ed: A dinner with no butter sounds really sad to me. Not even butter in fancy shapes? Or are fancy shapes nouveau riche?]
  • “Pie, however, is not a “company” dessert. Ice cream on the other hand is the inevitable conclusion of a formal dinner.” [Ed: Ice cream had literally JUST been invented, so I will give them a break here.]
  • “No matter where it is used, the finger bowl is less than half filled with cold water; and at dinner parties, a few violets, sweet peas, or occasionally a gardenia, is put in it. (A slice of lemon is never seen outside of a chop-house where eating with the fingers may necessitate the lemon in removing grease. Pretty thought!)”
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