Elbows on the table.

When I was a kid my mom had a real thing about us putting our elbows on the table whilst eating. In fact, I have scars on my arm where a fork found its target when the “Elbows Rule” was violated. Anyway, what is the basis of not putting one’s elbows on the table? I mean, putting my feet on the table I can understand, but elbows?

They get in the soup and mashed potatoes. Dark soup is no big deal but if you don’t wash your elbows the potatoes get all black.

If I remember right, Miss Manners says that it is permissible to put one’s elbows on the table in an informal setting (a family supper, for example), but not at a formal dinner. Unfortunately for me, my grandmother didn’t appear to know that. “E.O.T., E.O.T!” (Elbows Off Table!). It’s okay now; I stopped having E.O.T. nightmares a few months ago.

If you’d lived on a farm around harvest, when there’s work to do and only so many daylight hours to do it, you’d know that when everyone comes in at once for dinner they are all famished.

No time for conversation, but just a lot of food being shoveled.
They bend face to plate and look like a trough full of pigs.

Keeping the elbow off the table prevents this from happening.
It’s a Sunday-only rule around my family’s place.

IIRC, the reason for putting elbows on tables is so that it is more difficult to reach down into your boot and draw a dagger. Again, IIRC, it is an old French custom.

This did not get a good honest answer…

and i think it needs one.

I need to know WHY having elbows on the table is considered a BAD MANNER.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

It is an interesting question, for me at least, because it seems such an arbitrary rule.

I wondered if it was the influence of Emily Post, and found her 1922 book of etiquette here.. If you scroll waaay down, you’ll find her rules. She allows that elbows can be permitted if one is at a small table in a restaurant and must lean over to be heard above the music, otherwise

So, it’s not her rule but she relaxed it a bit. I’ll keep looking around, but in the meantime, I just had to share Emily’s thoughts on the basics for your infant:

I had no idea. But then I don’t think I’ve ever combined the words “baby of two” and “fingerbowl” in a single sentence before.

2 reasons

It intrudes into the space between plates.

Try watching someone eat with their elbows on the table sometime. Reduced motility leads to eating slouched over the table with the head bobbing down to the plate. It goes along with sitting up straight.

Ah, but we’re not talking about just eating. The general rule I was taught is, no elbows on the table at any time - not even when you’re just waiting for the waiter to bring your martini. And I don’t slouch.

But if they are never on the table then you won’t forget to take them off at the appropriate time. As some of the posts and my observations in life suggest the rule has been relaxed to a great degree.

It occurs to me that, as manners developed in the small privilleged upperclass, it might also have to do with allowing room for uninterupted service as well as leaving the plethera of impliments undisturbed.

Now listen, I’ll get up on the table any old time the mood strikes me, don’t even TRY to stop me.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

I’ve been on this board too long, this was discussed in great detail here during the summer of 1999. I seem to recall there was agreement that putting your elbows on the table was not polite for two main reasons:

  • It interferes with the service…waiters bringing the next course, keeping your glasses filled up.
  • It blocks off people at the table from other people and interferes with conversation…it’s a little too pushy, or eager, for polite society.

But what do I know, I worked in lumber camps where it was against the rules to talk at the dinner table.

Good point. Still, I wonder when the elbow rule became “codified” as upper-class behavior and why people who sought upward mobility focused on this particular rule to separate the couth from the un. It’s those bloody Victorians again, isn’t it?

elbows, I’ve always suspected you were a little bent.

No insight into the OP’s question, but all this talk reminds me of the ditty frequently trotted out in the mess hall of the YMCA summer camp I attended as a lad:
Get your elbows off the table
This is not a horses’ stable
The rejoinder was:

Mary says that it’s O.K.
So on the table they will stay
(Mary being the head cook at the camp.)

I heard somewhere that in medieval banquet halls they would set up tables with separate legs and tops so they could be easily stored when not in use. If people put their elbows on the table it would tend to create a minor inconvienence as the table overturned and the food fell all over the place. I say they should have used school cafeteria tables*.

But does the rule still apply today?

Except for the slouching (And trust me, anyone who wants to JUDGE me by my slouch can kiss my slouched ass), I see no relevence.

Maybe back in the days of kings this meant something, or tables were’nt big enough to hold everything, but let’s look at what happens nowadays:

People rest their elbows just BELOW the table (Kinda of leaning their arms on the table without actually putting their elbows on it.

You do it. I do it. Everyone seems to do it.

And that, my friends, is just as obtrusive as elbows on the table.

Why don’t we just change the rule to “Don’t eat with your hands”? That way we can avoid all these horrendous ARMS IN THE WAY thing.

So, to simply: Does this rule have any bearing in today’s soceity, excluding those snobbish uptight people who feel you can judge a person simply by appearence?