DONT cover 001Books on social etiquette have always proved popular. People are naturally curious about the manners of other ages. Such books also produce good talking points at parties or other social events. Don’t, a copy of which was recently discovered at Jot HQ, purports to deal ‘ frankly with mistakes and improprieties more or less common to all ‘, is no exception. Although undated, the dust jacket illustration and general design places it firmly in the early fifties, and an AA leaflet dated August 1953, which has been tucked into it, confirms this guess.

‘Censor’, the pseudonymous author of Don’tmakes no apologies for the book’s distinctly proscriptive tone. ‘ Manners maketh man ‘, he/she quotes, adding rather severely that if the rules appear ‘ over-nice’, ‘ everyone has the right to determine for himself at what point below the highest point he is content to let his social culture drop’. Ouch!

Reading certain parts of this book will make most people cry out in protest at an unreasonable ‘don’t’. For instance, why shouldn’t people wear jewellery that is ‘ solely ornamental’. What’s the point of jewellery unless it is ornamental ? Then there’s the request not to drink outside of meal times. Does this mean that one shouldn’t drink in pubs, hotels or at parties? Obviously absurd. ‘Censor’ is equally unreasonable concerning the shaking of hands: ‘Don’t …offer to shake hands with a lady. The initiative must always come from her. By the same principle DON’T offer your hands to a person older than yourself, or to anyone whose rank may be supposed to be higher than your own, unless he has extended his.’ Totally irrational. Then there is the faux gallantry: ‘Don’t forget that the lady sitting at your side has the first claim upon your attention. A lady at your side should not be neglected, whether you have been introduced to her or not.’ Even in 1953, this must have appeared preposterous, although another ‘don’t’—that men must not remaining sitting when a lady leaves the table —was still observed in some circles.

More faux gallantry: Apparently, one mustn’t introduce a lady to a gentleman, but vice versa. Nor must one introduce a gentleman to a lady without first asking her permission. This point of etiquette has survived, as in ‘May I introduce…? But no-one today would object if the ‘May I?’ was omitted.

Some of the ‘don’ts’ are, as we have noticed,  silly and irrational, but most of them suggest that Censor was someone who was unusually considerate to others, which, alas, cannot be said of most people in 2018. Here are some of the bad habits of 1953 that we witness every day here in the UK.

DON’T yawn, or hiccough, or sneeze in company. When there is an inclination to hiccough or sneeze, hold your breath for a moment and resist the desire, and you will find that it will often pass off.

DON’T gossip about the other people in your office, and DON’T break confidences.

DON’T make a large number of private telephone calls during working hours, and if your friends ring up, DON’T waste hours of your employer’s time chatting to them.

DON’T talk to one person across another.

DON’T talk about your troubles, or about your afflictions of any kind. Complaining people are pronounced on all hands great bores, and “organ recitals” are in the worst of taste.

DON’T introduce religious or political topics. Discussions on these subjects are very apt to cause irritation, and therefore it is best to avoid them.

DON’T  interrupt. To cut another short in the midst of his remarks, anecdotes or story, is unpardonable.

DON’T introduce pointless anecdotes and recollections of your relations and friends; of whom, probably, others present have never even heard and in whose doings they have no interest.

DON’T, if you have travelled, continually talk about the foreign places you have seen, or the adventures you may have met with: and DON’T give the impression that you consider the people of foreign places to be necessarily inferior, because their national habits are different.

DON’T eat fruit or anything else in the public streets.

DON’T, if it is raining, hold you umbrella in such a way that it catches the faces of others.

DON’T use extravagant adjectives. DON’T say magnificent when a thing is merely pretty, or marvellous or splendid when excellent or some other such word will do. Extravagance of this kind is never in good taste. It is a good rule to be sparing in the use of adjectives either in speech or in writing

(Note: this particular DON’T should be framed and hung up in every radio studio where ‘ phone-ins’ and interviews with the public take place, starting with BBC Radio Five Live. Are you reading this Nick Campbell? According to you every other caller stating the bleeding obvious is ‘BRILLIANT’. Learn from that bloke on The Fast Show and reserve your ‘brilliants’ for truly brilliant remarks, which are becoming rarer by the day ).

DON’T use less for fewer in referring to things or numbers. Less should be applied to bulk only; “less than a bushel, fewer than a hundred,” indicates the proper distinction to be made in the use of the two words.

( And DON’T listen to the ‘ academics ‘ who tell you otherwise. They may have PH Ds, but they’re wrong ).

DON’T speak of this or that kind of food being healthy or unhealthy; words which can only apply to the condition of the person who eats the food, not to the food itself; say always wholesome or unwholesome.

DON’T brag about your children’s accomplishments however proud you may be of them.

DON’T allow your ‘small talk’—which may be very agreeable, if trifling—to run too much in one groove. If it is of no interest to the company to know that you recently met Mrs Somebody and her daughters, of whom they have never heard, and to be told at great length how they were dressed. [RR]





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