A Little Language Etiquette

I love to haunt old bookstores. Even at Goodwill or the local resale shop, you’ll always find me, head turned sideways, scanning the titles of those used and lonely books.

cat
When scanning bookshelves, I look sort of like this.

There’s just something about used books. Our shelves at home are groaning under the weight of books because, when my husband and I want to go “shopping,” we both know that we’re heading to a place where we can look for books.

We bring them home, often wondering why we thought we needed more and, more importantly, where we’re going to put them. But that’s just a minor issue for us book lovers. We always find a way.

This past summer I came across this wonderful little textbook that I must share with you. It’s titled Language Etiquette, copyright 1949. From what I can tell, it’s an elementary school grammar text.

Here’s the cover. First, I have to say that I just love this snotty girl being rude to the friendly red-haired guy, tipping his hat at her. What is that about?

eti-3
Umm, I guess the guy used bad grammar?

Then, as I work my way through the book, I’m treated to rules of grammar and usage laid out in numbered lists, quizzes, and several poems to, you know, drive home the point. Like this gem titled “Etiquette”

You wouldn’t tolerate “B.O.”;
You dread the stigma that it lends;
But one thing you seem not to know;
That sloppy, careless speech offends.
You preen yourself to make a show;
You’re most meticulous in dress;
Though outwardly you’re all aglow,
Your slouchy words make you a mess.

You check your etiquette each day;
You guard with care your ev’ry act;
You’re sure your manners rate okay;
You pride yourself that you have tact.
But keep in mind there’s danger yet
Your fine impression to impeach,
For there’s no law of etiquette
That sanctions careless, sloppy speech.

eti-1
I have no idea why the drawing here features golfers.

Or this one, titled “Super ‘Guy'” (I really don’t know why “guy” is in quotation marks):

You know that you’re a super “guy”–
Your mom has often told you so;
In looks and brains you rate so high
No triumph that you may not know.
Though you’re so sure you’re “on the beam”
To high performance that you’d reach,
He seen and knowed may spoil a dream–
There’s sabotage in vulgar speech.

Though you possess a super mind
And strut in fashion ev’ry day,
If speech you use is unrefined,
You’re still considered just a “jay.”
Of highest triumph you’ve no doubt;
You’re sure you look like Robert Young;
But you’ll be rated super lout
While you’ve a careless, sloppy tongue.

eti-2
So, the guy in the suit speaks better than the guy in the wagon with the donkeys pulling it . . . apparently?

Well, if that doesn’t convince you not to be a lout, I don’t know what will!

But I have to say one good thing about this little book. Several pages have lists with guidelines for having good manners in conversation. So this was more than just a textbook about grammar and grammar usage, it was also offering to those elementary-aged minds advice on being decent human beings when it comes to speaking and having conversations.

Some of the points are a bit dated (i.e. “A lady keeps her voice low and quiet”), yet overall, I find a few pieces of etiquette advice that we ought to take to heart. Today, some of my students were sharing in class about various other social media sites that writers might want to use as they build their platforms. We were warned about a couple of them because of “frequent vulgarity” or just plain “meanness” by users.

What is wrong with our world? What happened to decency, niceness, etiquette? So for our edification (and maybe a few politicians might take heart, along with the “mean” folks on social media), I offer a few chosen language etiquette rules circa 1949 yet so needed today:

  1. You are judged by your conversational manners.
  2. He who talks most loudly is not necessarily he who talks best.
  3. No gentleman enjoys talking smut with a girl. (Is this not priceless?)
  4. Your conversation shows what you are–regardless of exterior signs.
  5. Don’t be an overwise, know-all.
  6. Always congratulate your successful rival.
  7. Malicious gossip appeals only to little minds.
  8. It is difficult to be a good listener, but it pays to try.
  9. It is much better to be silent than to say too much.
  10. Use tact and common sense–lest you hurt someone.
  11. Don’t interrupt or contradict without a very good reason.
  12. Try to say that which gives pleasure–don’t cause pain to others.

A little etiquette might go a long way. And I think today, in our social media world where we can say whatever we want either anonymously or without having to deal with a person face to face, we have become far too “vulgar” and “mean.”

I may think the poetry is hilarious, but many things in this little book are on the mark.

If you could create language etiquette rules for today, what might you include?

 

Cat image courtesy of: https://goo.gl/images/TvMfdR

4 thoughts on “A Little Language Etiquette

  1. Oh, oh, oh!!! My, my, my! See Spot run!!!

    I do not remember a book like your sample from grade school, but that was back in the days when a milkman delivered dairy products and eggs to your door, and 5 pounds of sugar cost $.55. But that does kind of take me back. I’ve seen 19th century tests for 8th graders that would reduce a math major to tears. This stuff is priceless.

    I think our education system has been dumbed down below the lowest common denominator and we really do have to fix that. I see both sides of the “manners” coin. Children are either very well-behaved or out of control. There seems to be no middle ground on that.

    Yes, we do need to relearn simple good manners in public discourse. I think that time may be coming. The public free-for-alls are no longer amusing. Nobody wins when you seen middle-aged adults acting like squabbling 6-year-olds.

    Thanks for posting that, and reminding me that old books have a great value to us all.

    1. You’re welcome! And I so agree. We’ve allowed ourselves to be dumbed-down and to feel that whatever is good for me as an individual is what I do, regardless of who it hurts. It’s sad.

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