Friday, September 6, 2013

The Skinny: A Vocabulary Lesson

We love looking through old etiquette books. Sometimes, the standards are the same today. But occasionally, we come across rules that are weird, silly, or...enlightening in some way. So this morning, as I was waiting for someone to pick me up, I decided to flip through Amy Vanderbilt's Etiquette (the 1972 reprint of the 1952 edition). If you ever needed to know any of the following, then start looking for this book right this very minute:
-The Masculine Graces
-A Woman's Manners in the Business World
-A Guide to Tactful Conversation
-Should a Christian Send a Christmas Card to a Jewish Friend?
-The Agreeable Wife
-Requesting an Audience With the Pope
-How Not to Treat a Celebrity

There is also a small section about the various uses of the bidet. Yes, various uses. I was a little bit horrified by some of them....

But, there is also a helpful section of words and phrases that a good conversationalist simply must know, and I thought I would share a few with you, so that we can all be perfect ladies and gentlemen. Not surprisingly, a lot of them have Shakespearean roots. A few others come to us courtesy of good old Chaucer.

1. "Let sleeping dogs lie"--based on a line from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
2. "Let him fry in his own grease"--also Chaucer
3. "Sour grapes"--from Aesop's fable of the fox and the grapes
4. "The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street"--another name for the Bank of England
5. "Milk of human kindness"--from Macbeth
6. "Mumbo jumbo"--a religious figure from a Sudanese tribe
7. "Caviar to the general"--from Hamlet
8.  Entrechat--a scissorlike dance move
9. Larghetto--musical term
10. Femme de chambre--French for "chambermaid"
11. Cherchez la femme--French for "look for the woman"
12. Ars longa vita brevis--Latin phrase "Art is long, life is short"
13. Deus ex machina--Latin phrase meaning "a wonderful, fortuitous and unexpected happening"

Now, your assignment is to use the above list in a paragraph, or in conversation with an actual person. Good luck!

There is also a chapter about words and phrases that people misuse or mispronounce regularly, which seems to irritate the heck out of Amy Vanderbilt. First, stop saying "tomahto." Never say it that way again. You should also never say:

-"Pardon me" (This is rude, as it is giving an order that cannot be refused. Instead, one should say "Please excuse me.")
-"Rich" (This term is vulgar.)
-"Loan" (We say "borrow" instead.)
-"Hose" or "Hosiery" (We say "stockings.")
-"Gent", "Dearie", "Girlie", "Tootsie", "Hubby", "Little woman", "Old man" (All vulgar!)

And one must never, ever, ever say "high class". This merely communicates the "social inferiority in the person uttering it."

I don't know. It could be a bunch of high-class mumbo jumbo. But maybe I'm just choking on sour grapes. Maybe all I need is a little milk of human kindness....


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