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Manner Words Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 20, 2011

Manner Words

This study guide focuses on words related to manners—the social rules we use, especially when we're on our best behavior.

Every society has a code of mostly unwritten rules about what constitutes good manners. The rules reflect the society's ideas of how people ought to interact so that they show respect and consideration of one another and communicate effectively. Along the way, the rules are adapted to current situations in a culture. For example, in eighteenth-century European cities, men were expected to walk on the outside of the sidewalk when walking with a lady. The reason: to protect her from flying garbage that was dumped from upstairs windows. This rule acknowledged the current social conditions— there was no citywide garbage service in those days—and suggested the proper manner for gallant men to protect the ladies.

In seventeenth-century France, a country associated with elegance and fine taste, it was still considered perfectly acceptable, even at the royal court, to eat with the hands. In our society, eating with your hands is universally unacceptable, except when eating certain finger foods, such as French fries or chips and dips. However, in many cultures of the Middle East and Africa, eating with the hands is still considered perfectly acceptable behavior. Likewise, in China, it's considered bad manners to give someone a clock; such a gift could be interpreted to mean that the gift-giver was starting a countdown to the recipient's death. And yet in frontier America, to have a clock was a sign of culture and good manners, and to this day clocks are considered an appropriate wedding gift.

Knowing the rules of good manners isn't always automatic, and every child experiences some frustration while learning the rules. Following are some words associated with our society's code of manners. As you learn these words and the rules they represent, think about why they exist and what ideals of behavior they represent in our culture.

Words That Describe Good Manners

1. cell-phone manners. The appropriate behavior while using a cell phone; unwritten, yet increasingly common rules of cell-phone behavior such as no loud or humorous ringtones; no cell-phone use in movie theaters, libraries, churches, or schools; and no loud talking. Can you think of other examples you've seen of good or bad cell-phone manners?
2. condolences. An expression of sympathy for a person who's suffering sorrow, misfortune, or grief; good manners require that handwritten notes of condolence be sent to a grieving person. When my grandmother died, it was comforting to receive a note of condolence from my teacher.
3. etiquette. The unwritten rules of socially acceptable behavior; the word etiquette dates back to eighteenth-century France. My mother often reminds us that good etiquette is a sign of a good person.
4. euphemism. The substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt; for example, when writing a condolence, it may be best to refer to a friend's loss rather than to use the word death. In America, our euphemism for the word died is often a phrase like passed on or passed away.
5. flag display. Federal laws, U.S. Code Title 4 Chapter 1, state the rules of etiquette for flying the U.S. flag. The flag display code requires flying the flag at half-staff for 30 days after the death of a president and ten days after the death of a vice president.
6. introductions. The formal presentation of one person to another or others. In most informal situations, treat both strangers as equals. For example: "Chris, I'd like you to meet my neighbor Pat."In more formal situations, introduce strangers more carefully, taking into consideration each person's age and rank, or standing in society. For example: "Senator Smith, may I present my friend Pat Reid."
7. manners. The socially acceptable way of acting. "There's really no substitute for good manners," commented Ms. Prim, our homeroom teacher.
8. netiquette. The rules of etiquette, or good manners, that have come to be acceptable during Internet ("net") communication. It's considered bad netiquette to write emails or post on blogs using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
9. place cards. Small cards placed on formal dining tables to designate where each guest should sit. Place cards are most commonly used at formal events, but they can be very useful for separating screaming children or warring cousins at family holiday gatherings!
10. respect. In every society, respect for others, particularly for the elders of the community, forms the basis for all social customs and rules. Our grandparents always sit at the head of the table, with the grandchildren spread out around them; it's our way of showing respect for our grandparents.
11. RSVP. The initials of a French phrase, répondez, s'il vous plaît, which means please reply. These letters appear on invitations, asking the invitee to respond and accept or decline the invitation; sometimes used as a verb. Don't forget to RSVP so I'll know if you're coming to the party or not!
12. thank-you note. A letter or note written to thank someone for a gift or hospitality. Sending a thank-you note to my grandmother for the birthday gift she sent me didn't take much time and she said she was pleasantly surprised by my good manners!

TIP: Every time you witness someone not using good manners, think about why a particular rule of etiquette exists. Knowing the origin of a rule often makes it easier for you to remember to follow it.

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Manner Words Practice Exercises

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