From Cannibalism to the Royal Court: The Origins of Etiquette

Welcome to Artful Matters!

I have decided to begin my blogging journey explaining just one word – ETIQUETTE.

We were all taught this concept as a child and live by it in varying degrees.  For myself, raised in Kansas, my mother bestowed upon me enough table manners to go into the world with confidence.  However, now that I speak and write on the topic of etiquette, everyone runs for the hills and somehow magically the Traberts’ invites to dinner parties of others they seem to get lost in the mail.  So, why does this word evoke so much intimidation?  Trust me, you have no need to worry of judgment from me – I am from Kansas after all!

The actually word “etiquette”, even perhaps most of its negative connotation, dates back to the reign of King Louis XIV.  One might be surprised to find that the word etiquette itself is derived from a French word to convey “label” or “ticket.”  But, it was good ole Louis who forced upon his court the highest expectations of standards and strict rules of conduct and thus transformed the word etiquette into its fullest terrorizing potential.  For you see, one did not pass through the golden gates and enter the ball without an “etiquette” or “a-ticket” – (get it). These “etiquettes” were printed on both sides and outlined the guidelines and expectations of his court to follow during his grand royal events.  This led to the birth of the word as we know it today, meaning appropriate conduct in social situations. What could be more social than a ball at Versailles with the King?

Now knowing the origin of the actual word etiquette, I offer you another darker and more heinous theory of its original conceptualization – taking you back to the beginning of mankind.  It is not for the faint of heart; but, this theory suggests table manners and etiquette originated with cannibalism.  Yes, you read it right – cannibalism!  Now, you might think this idea barbarous and grotesque, but if you really think about it, what is etiquette but a set of guidelines and rules, stated by someone a long time ago, that we all have grown to accept and follow as the proper way to conduct oneself to be accepted into society.  However, even cannibals had rules and standards as to which parts of the body you were allowed to eat and those that were sacred, thus introducing table manners onto the world.  But if no one had ever stated that eating another human being was wrong, then where would we be today?  Without the early creation of protocol and table manners, I imagine King Louis’s “etiquette guides” could have read much differently and the dining experience could have resembled some warped scene from the Walking Dead.

One of my favorite books, The Rituals of Dinner, states,

“Behind every rule of table etiquette lurks the determination of each person present to be a diner, not a dish . . . no society exists without manners, and specifically without rules that govern eating behavior.  Table manners are politeness where food is concerned.”

That was a deep thought.  So, I will let it sink in a bit before we proceed.  (pause and breath)

To sum the quote up, the creation of manners produced rules that we all should live by and therefore created a harmonious society that we all can live in without fear becoming the meal.

With all this negativity swirling around this one word, it is no wonder that it can strike fear into even the bravest of men.  It is for these reasons that I have opted to throw out the word etiquette and have replaced it with SOCIAL PROTOCOLS.  Because it is the various social situations and how we act in those situations that define us as individuals within society.  The history etiquette shows us where and why it began, but it is the future of social protocol which will show us how to use it moving forward.

All this said, I now invite you to join me as I discuss my journey of discovery and discussion of life’s protocols, in all sorts of various social situations, so that we may all lead an ARTFUL LIFE!

Cheers to that!

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2016-10-13T18:04:59+00:00

2 Comments

  1. Florian Jouin October 3, 2016 at 10:47 am - Reply

    I also wanted to add that at Louix XIV court the “etiquette ” was spoken and not written so it was even more difficult to learn it and get accepted as the rules could change at any moments without notice and no outsiders could learn and pretend they were part of the “club”

  2. Justin Trabert October 7, 2016 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Florian Jouin – Thank you for the wonderful insight. I love that Artful Matters invokes conversation about protocol – the things we learned and how we were taught. I did some more research after your posting and found yet another version of the Louis’ use of the etiquette. This version would suggest there was a printed version, but as a sign in the yard – “Etiquette used to mean “keep off the grass.” When Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles discovered that the aristocrats were trampling through his garden, he put up signs, or “etiquets,” to warn them off, but the dukes and duchesses walked right past the signs. Finally, the king himself had to decree that no one was to go beyond the bounds of the etiquets. Gradually, the meaning of etiquette was expanded to include the ticket to court functions that listed the rules of where to stand and what to do. Like language, etiquette evolved, but in a sense it still means “keep off the grass.” We watch for people to stay within certain bounds.” – https://www.noozhawk.com/article/john_daly_etiquette_origins_20140812

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