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Don't talk about anything and don't not talk about nothing
September 2, 2013 9:23 AM   Subscribe

"Avoid flattery. A delicate compliment is permissible in conversation, but flattery is broad, coarse, and to sensible people, disgusting. If you flatter your superiors, they will distrust you, thinking you have some selfish end; if you flatter ladies, they will despise you, thinking you have no other conversation." - 37 Conversation Rules for Gentlemen from 1875
posted by The Whelk (53 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
See? I am sensible!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 AM on September 2, 2013


Never notice it if others make mistakes in language. To notice by word or look such errors in those around you is excessively ill-bred.

*murmurs appreciatively*
posted by languagehat at 9:38 AM on September 2, 2013 [39 favorites]


I've been watching a lot of Poirot recently and Hastings' conversational blunders are very instructive. That cat could've used a quick look over this list.

Of which, nine out of every ten pointers are still wholly applicable. The conversational playing field has changed a lot in the last century and a half, and the speed of life has made it that much harder to pay so much attention to what others are saying (let alone what one says!) but the fact remains that other humans are interesting and worthy of your attention—both to what they're communicating but also what you are communicating.
posted by carsonb at 9:38 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Basically a Readers' Digest version of Lord Chesterfields letters to his son.
posted by BWA at 9:38 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are all still perfectly valid for irl conversation, but it's hard to apply a lot of them to internets discussions, alas.
posted by elizardbits at 9:39 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Avoid set phrases, and use quotations but rarely.

That's just, like, their opinion, man.
posted by griphus at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


"27. [...] To speak in terms of admiration of any work to the author is in bad taste; "

I think this is the only rule that's no longer broadly applicable.
posted by hat_eater at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nonsense.
Balderdash.
Poppycock.

Ass-kissing is always in fashion. Ass-kissers are despised, it's true, but the kissee loves to have toadies to kick around.
posted by mule98J at 9:51 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


#37.

Yes. Please.
posted by bilabial at 9:52 AM on September 2, 2013


22. If you are a professional or scientific man, avoid the use of technical terms. They are in bad taste, because many will not understand them. If, however, you unconsciously use such a term or phrase, do not then commit the still greater error of explaining its meaning. No one will thank you for thus implying their ignorance.

Hmm, if you accidentally use some jargon, what's so wrong with apologizing and explaining briefly?

29. To use phrases which admit of a double meaning, is ungentlemanly.

That's what she said.
posted by jcreigh at 9:53 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ignoring half of these rules gives cable news their business model. Ignoring the other half gives most web commenters their sense of self-worth.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:54 AM on September 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


I like this because I'm reading Swann's Way right now, and the Verdurins' scenes are good demonstrations of how to botch it completely.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:55 AM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of curse, these are aspirational rules, if they had to write them down then they weren't being followed, like all those monastic laws repeatedly clarifying that one monk to a bed MEANS ONE MONK TO A BED.
posted by The Whelk at 9:56 AM on September 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Most of them seem to be what to avoid doing. People now need ideas of what _to_ talk about. It's easy to contribute nothing, seem intelligent, and criticize others (even if not in conversation, than in silence to ourselves). I think this leads to a general detachment and is sad.
posted by amtho at 10:02 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


one monk to a bed MEANS ONE MONK TO A BED

I'm sensing some sort of limit here. Does this also apply to individuals who are not monks? What if one is a monk and the other is not? What if one is, but the other three are not? What if it is a very large bed? Or a broad sofa, you know, with some tasteful brocade?

What about the goat?
posted by spacewrench at 10:06 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've only faced real, fulsome flattery once, when I was renting a room from a retired crank whose hobbies included calling up supermarkets and demanding that they send him free gift cards. He wanted me to put to words a Hawaii-themed children's Christian allegory about a time-traveling blue whale named Waikiki Willie. I'm not sure whether successfully avoiding that task is my greatest success or my greatest failure.
posted by Nomyte at 10:06 AM on September 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


Or that kind of blandly respectful chit chat where nothing of value or import is commicated that makes you wish a bomb throwing anarchist will turn up or something
posted by The Whelk at 10:07 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, it turns out I'm not a gentleman.
posted by YouRebelScum at 10:07 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


On finding things to talk about, standard practice says you make notes of current events in the newspaper and have them at the ready when needed. These days I usually open with " have you been following the mayoral race?" with other NYers, which can suss out who much they want to talk local politics.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on September 2, 2013


A gentleman will never calumniate or listen to calumny.

Words to live by.

Probably.
posted by iotic at 10:15 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


( okay this is an old old peeve of mine, but how does calumny differ from slander in usage? It's meant to imply a more casual, conversation kind of defaming then outright slander, which has public and Offical connotations, right? This has been bugging me since high school.)
posted by The Whelk at 10:17 AM on September 2, 2013


Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it.

George Washington Rules of Civility
posted by bukvich at 10:21 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Frequently attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, or Proverbs, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." remains a personal favorite.

'Nuff said.
posted by cenoxo at 10:21 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


George Washington Rules of Civility

"if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions"

I am so not making it up. (they kept the original spelling and punctuation)
posted by hat_eater at 10:26 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I assume that is meant for the hems of long overcloaks and whatnot but I enjoy the thought of some behosed dude in dainty silverbuckled pumps wiping the spittle off of a compatriot's cravat with his toe.
posted by elizardbits at 10:28 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


19. Avoid pedantry; it is a mark, not of intelligence, but stupidity.

Pedants of Metafilter, please call your office.
posted by elmer benson at 10:32 AM on September 2, 2013


"19. Avoid pedantry; it is a mark, not of intelligence, but stupidity."

As an academic, I'm often surrounded by people who think that lecturing is a normal form of conversation, when in fact, unless a conversational partner has requested a long discourse, it tends to make eyes glaze over and people feel condescended to. I think a nice banner with Point 19 emblazoned on it should be hung out at every university function.
posted by DrMew at 10:33 AM on September 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Avoid, if you can, seeing the skeleton in your friend’s closet, but if it is paraded for your special benefit, regard it as a sacred confidence, and never betray your knowledge to a third party.

I am really enjoying the image of a top-hatted, long-coat-wearing fellow sitting on the end of his friend's bed as the friend emerges from the closet doing a jazz hands power walk with the skeleton. Then the friend puts it away and assumes a very dour face as he intones grimly: "you must never speak of this to another soul."
posted by invitapriore at 10:37 AM on September 2, 2013 [26 favorites]


I assume that is meant for the hems of long overcloaks

Eh, no. The following words are "(if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions), Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off. " It's just missing a comma, but it made me stare, then laugh.
And then I saw "11th Shift not yourself in the Sight of others" and thought, why, that should be rather obvious, and then noticed that I missed an f.
posted by hat_eater at 10:39 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


4. It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.

So, making the International Sign of the Blabbermouth by making a talking shadow puppet with the fingers and thumb of one hand, rolling your eyes, and making a "come one, get to the point" gesture with the other hand is right out?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:55 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


4. It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.

So, making the International Sign of the Blabbermouth by making a talking shadow puppet with the fingers and thumb of one hand, rolling your eyes, and making a "come one, get to the point" gesture with the other hand is right out?


Just remember, if in doubt, seek inspiration from noted luminaries.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:02 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


17. The wittiest man becomes tedious and ill-bred when he endeavors to engross entirely the attention of the company in which he should take a more modest part.

I could probably stand to tattoo this to my forearm.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:27 AM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


cenoxo: ""It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." remains a personal favorite. "

I like to follow it with "It is better to ask the question and appear ignorant, than to stay silent and be ignorant."

The (apparent) contradiction amuses me.
posted by Lorc at 11:30 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


The target of the first quote isn't people who ask questions, it's people who are very confident but wrong. Hence, if you're not sure about an assertion, don't make it.

But asking questions (about the topic at hand) is great. You learn something, signal interest in what the other person is saying, and move the conversation forward.
posted by officer_fred at 11:42 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or that kind of blandly respectful chit chat where nothing of value or import is commicated that makes you wish a bomb throwing anarchist will turn up or something

Maybe I'm just old and have had too many fraught conversations in my time, but if someone told me that every exchange with other humans for the rest of my life would be blandly respectful it would be a great day for me.
posted by winna at 12:28 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Points 17–23 in particular were aspects of my own sociability that I slowly learned to correct during my late teens and early twenties, making me a markedly less boorish interlocutor in my future professional life.
posted by adoarns at 12:29 PM on September 2, 2013


32. If you have traveled, although you will endeavor to improve your mind in such travel, do not be constantly speaking of your journeyings. Nothing is more tiresome than a man who commences every phrase with, “When I was in Paris,” or, “In Italy I saw…”

Oh man, when I lived in New York-- did I ever tell you I lived in New York City for a few years?--anyway, there was this [type of place], and if you like [same type of place anywhere else], you would DIE for [essentially identical product/service sold at Brooklyn type of place]. If you're ever visiting, you should totally go there.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:59 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


The style reminds me of this NSFW Onion advice piece, "A Gentleman Never Discloses Who Sucked Him Off."
posted by John of Michigan at 1:07 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I fail every single rule, lol.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:10 PM on September 2, 2013


Jeff: We need to be smart. We need to hatch a scheme.
Britta: Hatching a scheme’s not really my wheelhouse.
Jeff: Let’s not confine ourselves to your wheelhouse. This problem won’t respond to tap dancing or casual revelations that you spent time in New York.
Britta: OK, if you’re going to get all Upper East Side about this I think we’re done.

posted by Navelgazer at 1:43 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.

If I didn't distract myself during some lectures I would simply fall asleep, which would be ruder.
posted by shivohum at 1:53 PM on September 2, 2013


So, can I mention the number of embroidered damask dressing gowns my manservant has laid out for me at home, or the height of my second-best opera hat, or the extra pair of tan kid face-slapping gloves I keep in a French batiste bag in my breast pocket so I don't get cheap Macassar oil on my proper ones? 'Cause if not, I'll just stay home and eat opium.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:20 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Besides making conversation, gentlemen and ladies spent a great deal of their time writing letters to one another and making social calls and leaving calling cards. Letter-writing was the dead-tree equivalent of Facebook, though longer-form and without so many pictures.

If you can remember being taught to write properly formed cursive in school, that was the distant populist descendant of aristocratic letter-writing's display of penmanship.
posted by bad grammar at 3:14 PM on September 2, 2013


38. A site is Ill-bred that endeavors to make use of OnSwipe technology; it is a mark, not of technological prowess, but ignorance.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:17 PM on September 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


39. Mentioning one's predilection for media piracy is the mark of a scoundrel; while all might essay it, to revel in it shows ill-breeding
posted by Sebmojo at 3:22 PM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


40. Contintuing to pester someone via IMs even after they have clearly Left is a sign of ill breeding and vulgar temper. Responding with Txt Messages is unacceptable at every level of society.
posted by The Whelk at 3:36 PM on September 2, 2013


41. Klout is right out.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:10 PM on September 2, 2013


I have 2 boys. George Washington's admonition to "shift not yourself in the sight of others" gets quoted in my house a LOT.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:54 PM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


42. Calleth out one not on the grey when one's point could have been made discreetly unto another in a private message, for such behaviour is trollish and smacks of grandstanding.
posted by 4ster at 8:10 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


43. Twerketh not. Refrain from shaking, quivering, juddering, or the oscillation, pulsation, or vacillation of the fleshy portions of one's hindquarters. Instead moderate the gyrations of thy booty, especially in mixed company or on the floor of dance.
posted by 4ster at 8:25 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do not officiously offer assistance or mansplain in general society. Nobody will thank you for it.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:28 PM on September 2, 2013


44. At every gathering, some merry wag is bound to exclaim, "Has Mr. Worth exhausted his supply of horsehair crinoline on that bustle, Miss, or are you simply glad to see me?" Do not be that merry wag. No-one likes that merry wag.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:39 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


- 37 Conversation Rules for Gentlemen from 1875
posted by The Whelk (52 comments total) [add to favorites] 37 users marked this as a favorite [!]


Perfect.
posted by homunculus at 8:27 PM on September 3, 2013


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