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12 of George Washington's Rules of Civility That Still Apply

America’s first commander in chief wholeheartedly fought to free his country from tyranny’s reign, but when it came to behaving like a king, George Washington was as noble as they came.

In his youth, Washington put pen to paper to capture 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. The rules were based on a set originally composed by French Jesuits in 1595, which played a huge role in shaping America’s first president.

Thomas Jefferson, in an 1814 letter to Walter Jones, wrote around 1800 words on George Washington’s character, but none more profound than these: “...on the whole, his character was, in its mass perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great.”

If a man as important as Washington devoted his entire life to behaving well, surely we can learn a few things from him. Though some of the founding father’s rules are in need of a fresh coat of paint for modern life, these 12 are as appropriate as ever.

1. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet.

If all the world abided by this rule, wouldn’t all public spaces and places be more pleasant? If this could also apply to people who listen to music without headphones, we’d all win.

2. Read no letters, books, or papers in company but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unasked also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

If George Washington was writing this today, it’d go more like this: Urge no others in your company to watch a YouTube video as you look over their shoulder. Do not come into company prepared with a YouTube video to watch unless asked to do so. And never, ever look at your colleagues’ Gmail inboxes, however open they may be.

3. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.

Especially in a movie theater.

4. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

Everyone is busy; let’s be respectful of everyone’s time, as it is precious.

5. In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.

Do not offer to search the Internet for a friend’s illness symptoms and deliver your findings, and never, ever relay the details of your distant relative’s medical horror story to a person who is ill.

6. Be not immodest in urging your friends to discover a secret.

Don’t over-share, especially on Facebook.

7. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof.

Confirm your sources. Always confirm your sources.

8. Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.

If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Keep your word, it is your best asset.

9. A man ought not to value himself of his achievements, or rare qualities of wit; much less of his riches, virtue or kindred.

Even a man with a 555-foot tall monument in his honor was against the humblebrag. Let others brag on your accomplishments.

10. Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.

If we all followed this rule a little more carefully we would be without reality TV.

11. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily but orderly & distinctly.

Self-explanatory.

12. Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after drinking, wipe your lips; breath not then or ever with too great a noise, for its uncivil.

Clearly, this is Washington’s fancier way of saying, “check yourself, before you wreck yourself.”

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Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain
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History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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Rent an Incredible Harry Potter-Themed Apartment in the City Where the Series Was Born
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Muggle city of Edinburgh has deep ties to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the book series while living there, and there’s even a pub in Edinburgh that named itself after the author for a month. Now, fans passing through the Scottish capital have the chance to live like their favorite boy wizard. As Digital Spy reports, a Harry Potter-themed holiday home in the city’s historic district is now available to rent for around $200 (£150) a night.

Property owner Yue Gao used her own knowledge as a fan when decorating the apartment. With red and yellow accents, a four-poster bed, and floating candles adorning the wallpaper on the ceiling, the master bedroom pays tribute to both the Gryffindor dormitory and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The Hogwarts theme extends to the lounge area, where each door is painted with a different house’s colors and crest. Guests will also find design aspects inspired by the Hogwarts Express around the apartment: The second bedroom is designed to look like a sleeping car, and the front door is disguised as the brick wall at Platform 9 3/4.

Pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia Gao has picked up in her travels are hidden throughout the home, too. If visitors look closely, they’ll find several items that once belonged to Rowling herself, including the writer’s old desk.

Take a look at some of the photos of the magical interiors:

The apartment is available to rent throughout the year through canongateluxuryapartment.co.uk. And if you can tear yourself away from the residence for long enough, there are plenty of other Harry Potter-themed attractions to check out in Edinburgh during your stay.

[h/t Digital Spy]

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