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Why Your Mother Really Made You Take Your Elbows Off the Table

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“Peter, Peter strong and able, get your elbows off the table.”

If your parents or grandparents repeated this rhyme at your dinner table ad nauseum, or at least until you finally remembered that you weren’t supposed to eat your food while propping yourself up with your elbows, you’re definitely not alone.

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It’s considered poor manners to eat with your elbows on the table, which is something people might have learned in an etiquette class once upon a time.

Now, even if we know it’s not something that’s considered proper, most of us have never even stopped to think about the reason why it’s frowned upon.

Image Credit: iStock

It turns out that back in the day, it just signaled that you were a demure, non-threatening guest to have at dinner, says Margaret Visser, author of The Rituals of Dinner:The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners.

“Table manners prevented us from leaving our space and starting a fight. It was important that people saw you as considerate or trying hard.

People got scared when you started having bad manners. They realized the taboo was not functioning and you didn’t know what this person was going to do next.”

Basically, keeping your elbows off the table convinced people you were able to restrain yourself in other matters, as well.

More recently, the rule has evolved to help prevent mishaps like spilled glasses or sticking your forearm into your ketchup, as my toddler seems to do effortlessly at every single meal.

Said Jodi R.R. Smith, owner and president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting…

“Not everything is perfectly neat. So by keeping your elbows off the table, you are also making sure you do not put your elbow in a drip of salad dressing or soup or gravy.”

No elbows in the gravy? Now that’s as good a reason as any, right?

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As a bonus, the effort also improves your posture!

Poor posture, or slouching, probably won’t get you labeled as uncivilized these days, but it is bad for your back – and if you slump over too far it could keep the people on either side of you from seeing each other properly.

So, there you go – all sorts of reasons to continue keeping your elbows off the top of the table, and all of the ammunition you need to continue that horrible rhyme with your own offspring.

You’re welcome.