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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Manners, Miens & Mores: Emily Post on Gossip

The victim of gossip herself, Emily Price Post turned to writing about etiquette after divorcing her philandering husband. While rather hard on gossip in the written form, by the late 1940s, she softened...a bit.

THE DANGEROUS LETTER A pitfall that those of sharp wit have to guard against is the thoughtless tendency toward writing ill-natured things...The amusing person catches foibles and exploits them, and it is easy to forget that wit flashes all too irresistibly at the expense of other people’s feelings, and the brilliant tongue is all too often sharpened to rapier point. Admiration for the quickness of a spoken quip, somewhat mitigates its cruelty. The exuberance of the retailer of verbal gossip eliminates the implication of scandal, but both quip and gossip become deadly poison when transferred permanently to paper.

Etiquette in society, in business, in politics and at home, by Emily Post (Mrs. Price Post), 1922

Good-tempered, amusing gossip, like salt, adds to flavor, but is best used sparingly. The most important rule, which is kindness in considering the feelings of others, is the hardest one to follow -- not because of our lack of kindness but because we are often slow in perceiving what the feelings of others may be. At all events, we must not talk to someone about a subject that probably affects him deeply, nor should we try to talk to an expert about his own speciality if we know nothing about it. In other words, should you meet Professor Einstein you would not ask him about relativity unless you are the one person in thousands who understands enough about this subject to at least listen intelligently.

From Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage by Emily Post (Mrs. Price Post), 1942

Image: Women’s Club Westport, by Nina Leen, 1947, via Life Magazine


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