19CBRE: Stick To Your Own Language

Life has been very busy of late and I haven’t any new sewing or event pictures ready to share, but I do have another installment of 19CBRE ready, so let’s go with that for now.

This one is following up on the last 19CBRE post about the use of those “I can’t remember the specific thing I’m mentioning” phrases. In a similar vein, this excerpt is also about what one should and shouldn’t say in conversation. It is from the same source, The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), page 14:

It is a mark of ill breeding to use French phrases or words, unless you are sure your companion is a French scholar, and, even then, it is best to avoid them. Above all, do not use any foreign word or phrase, unless you have the language perfectly at your command. I heard a lady once use a Spanish quotation; she had mastered that one sentence alone; but a Cuban gentleman, delighted to meet an American who could converse with him in his own tongue, immediately addressed her in Spanish. Embarrassed and ashamed, she was obliged to confess that her knowledge of the language was confined to one quotation.

A Trying Moment.

A Trying Moment by George du Maurier

Good advice to follow in the 19th century and even today in many situations. Of course, our modern sense of etiquette being less strict than it used to be, a modern person perhaps wouldn’t be quite as embarrassed as a lady from the 1870s, but still it seems like a situation that is unnecessary and easy to avoid.

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3 responses to “19CBRE: Stick To Your Own Language

  1. How interesting! I thought it was a mark of good breeding (not “ill breeding”) to use French words in conversation, but apparently not in 1873!

  2. I’m thinking of the times where well-bred young women were sent off to finishing school to learn various skills, including foreign language (French being extremely common). For someone to use a French phrase, but not know the language or, heaven forbid, the meaning of that phrase, I’d imagine that it would make the person seem like a poser or a social climber, trying to fit into the “in” crowd.

    Another point, referring to the part in the quote that mentions the conversation partner knowing French, saying something in a foreign language loses its cool factor really quickly when you have to explain what it means in English, n’est pas? (:P)

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