What is the history of Etiquette?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Proper" modes and norms of behavior in society, called "Etiquette," developed thousands of years ago, probably in conjunction with an increase in the commonality in spoken language. As people started to form cohesive social groups, it was necessary to act in certain ways to get along, especially in public. One of the earliest recorded works that listed rules of etiquette is The Maxims of Ptahhotep, written by Egyptian official and philosopher Ptahhotep somewhere between 2414-2375 BC (Wikipedia). Social etiquette continued to evolve, especially when social structures developed into clear lines of upper-class and lower-class people. In the French Courts of the 16-1700s, nobles developed rules of etiquette to occupy their time, as they had no actual work to perform; they used these rules both to denote proper behavior and to engage in elaborate etiquette games of one-upsmanship, competing for the most grace in the eyes of their peers. Over time, etiquette rules have decreased in social importance; today, etiquette is often seen directly at upper-class social events, with middle- and lower-class peoples having far-more relaxed standards of proper behavior. One place where etiquette is still considered important is in consumption of food; most shared meals, either casual or formal, have unspoken rules about the conduct and behavior of those eating, from prohibiting elbows on the table to which fork is correct for each course.