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18 Conversation Tips From 19th-Century Etiquette Books

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Etiquette was a booming business in the 19th-century. Industrialization meant that people were moving between places and classes in a way they hadn't before, and there was a great demand for guidance on how to fit into the social circles that they had either gotten themselves into, or wanted to get into. Hundreds of etiquette books were published in this period, and they all had something to say about how to use language. Here are 18 perfectly charming rules on how to converse properly culled from 19th century etiquette books.

Some of the rules are quite sensible. For example, don't be a jerk, a pretentious jerk, or a teenager.

1. "Don't talk aloud in a railway carriage, and thus prevent your fellow passengers from reading their book or newspaper."

2. "Don't talk of 'the opera' in the presence of those who are not frequenters of it."

3. "Don't respond to remarks made to you with mere monosyllables. This is chilling, if not fairly insulting. Have something to say, and say it."

Many of the rules are easier said than done. It takes a lot of concentration to keep your voice, meaning, and mysterious allure at the exact perfect level at all times.

4. "Always select words calculated to convey an exact impression of your meaning."

5. "Don't talk in a high, shrill voice, and avoid nasal tones. Cultivate a chest voice; learn to moderate your tones. Talk always in a low register, but not too low."

6. "Avoid any air of mystery when speaking to those next to you; it is ill-bred and in excessively bad taste."

You also need to choose your words carefully. Remember, your food is not healthy, you do not wear pants, and your wife is no lady.

7. "Don't use meaningless exclamations, such as 'Oh, my!' 'Oh, cracky' etc."

8. "Don't say gents for gentlemen or pants for pantaloons. These are inexcusable vulgarisms. Don't say vest for waistcoat."

9. "Don't speak of this or that kind of food being healthy or unhealthy; say always wholesome or unwholesome."

10. "'It made me quite low spirited; my heart felt as heavy as lead.' We most of us know what a heavy heart is; but lead is by no means the correct metaphor to use in speaking of a heavy heart."

11. "Don't say lady when you mean wife."

Acting things out is not funny—unless, of course, you are doing it to make fun of entire classes or nationalities.

12. "Never gesticulate in every day conversation, unless you wish to be mistaken for a fifth rate comedian."

13. "A little graceful imitation of actors and public speakers may be allowed. National manners, and the peculiarities of entire classes, are fair game. French dandies, Yankee bargainers, and English exquisites, may be ridiculed at pleasure; you may even bring forward Irish porters, cab-drivers and bog-trotters—provided you can imitate their wit and humor."

Ladies do not make good conversational partners.

14. "Never ask a lady a question about anything whatever."

15. "In the company of ladies, do not labor to establish learned points by long-winded arguments. They do not care to take too much pains to find out truth."

Which may have something to do with what's in their etiquette books.

16. "Never question the veracity of any statement made in general conversation."

17. "Men frequently look with a jealous eye on a learned woman … be cautious, therefore, in mixed company of showing yourself too much beyond those around you."

Try conversing with them by eye instead.

18. "It may be coquettish, but there is nothing particularly womanly in never looking a man in the eye. Search the face that confronts you, and learn what manner of man this is whom you are receiving into your company and fellowship. If he quails under the inquisition, so much the worse for him. If he is worth looking at, it is a pity to miss the sight."

Sources: Don't: A manual of mistakes and improprieties more or less prevalent in conduct and speech, Oliver Bell Bunce, 1884; The Gentleman's Book of Etiquette, Cecil Hartley, 1873; Martine's Handbook of Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, Arthur Martine, 1866; Etiquette for Ladies, Lea and Blanchard 1840; Etiquette: An answer to the riddle when? where? how? Agnes H. Morton, 1899.

 

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James Cameron is Making a Documentary to Reassess the Accuracy of Titanic
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While making the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron was a stickler for the details. The writer-director wanted his homage to the tragic ocean liner to be as historically accurate as possible, so he organized dives to the site, solicited experts to analyze his script, and modeled the set off photographs and plans from the Titanic's builders. He even recreated the ocean liner’s original furnishings, right down to the light fixtures. Now, 20 years after the film’s release, E! News reports that Cameron will scrutinize the film’s authenticity in an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

Titanic: 20th Anniversary is slated to air in December 2017. It will feature Cameron and a team of experts who, together, will evaluate the film's accuracy using new historical and scientific insights about the ship's fateful sinking on April 15, 1912.

"When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for," Cameron said in a statement. "I was creating a living history; I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy. But did I really get it right? Now, with National Geographic and with the latest research, science, and technology, I'm going to reassess."

It's not the first time Cameron has revisited his Oscar-winning epic; in 2012, the director made some tweaks to the film for its 3-D re-release after receiving some criticism from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron explained. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in." So he changed it.

In the case of Titanic: 20th Anniversary, Cameron and his team will give viewers an updated interpretation of the Titanic’s sinking, and reexamine the wreck using new underwater footage, computer-generated simulation, and research. They’ll also scrutinize some of the film’s most famous scenes, and provide biographical context about the filming process.

We’re sure fans, historians, and, of course, Kate and Leo, will approve.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
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Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
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Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
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The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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