Where Did Etiquette Originate?

If you randomly ask people what etiquette means, you are likely going to get a set of different responses but generally circling the same idea. From the curtsying act of children to napkins and finger bowls, etiquette encompass a range of rules and expectations. Often asked is where exactly did etiquette originate from? Well, there is no certain answer.

French Origins: Louis XIV

The word itself is French, whose etymology means “ticket.” According to an article by John Daly, President of ‘The Key Class’ and a contributor at Noozhawk – an online news publication based in Santa Barbara, can be traced to 15th and 16th Century France. What we have come to know today as etiquette was introduced by King Louis XIV. His gardener at Versailles was frustrated by aristocrats who continually ignored “keeping off” signs (etiquettes) to trample on the well-manicured gardens. The king issued a decree barring anyone from walking past the gardener’s etiquettes, and it quickly became law. As time went by, the “ticket” system was diversified to include a set of other rules governing behavior at the King’s Court, and it has since evolved.

Ancient Egypt: Ptahhotep

Other historians, however, disagree. They believe that etiquette cannot be traced to a single origin. As a matter of fact, it is believed that expectations of civil conduct were something long practiced by other civilizations long before 15th Century France or Europe for that matter. The writings of Ptahhotep – a city administrator and vizier in ancient Egypt – clearly documented social practices expected of Egyptians in 3000 BC.

Ancient China: Confucius

Over 2,500 years later and thousands of miles from Egypt, the renowned Chinese philosopher Confucius is said to have come up with and emphasized a set of rules that promoted moral practices in all spheres of life. Historians believe that he also promoted rules for speaking and eating – which today fall under the umbrella of etiquette.

Perhaps what’s more realistic is that no single person, group, or civilization can claim to be the pioneers of etiquette. In fact, various aspects of etiquette may each have their own origin. For instance, the act of shaking hands is believed to have originated from Ancient Greece, and it was meant to replace bows and curtsies. It denotes mutual respect and quality – which is why it was considered a symbol of bonding between married couples. It is also an act of showing openness and transparency to the other party, say, during negotiations.

Etiquette has since been broadened to include a system of conventional rules that govern social norms. This barely scratches the surface in regard to what etiquette entails. There is a ton more to cover, so stay tuned.