A little conversation – Part 1

Conversation, something we take for granted. However how many people interrupt, talk over or generally talk about nothing!

Routledges Manual of Etiquette offers some great insight to conversation and its proper place in society:

Let your conversation be adapted as skilfully as may be to your company. Some men make a point of talking commonplaces to all ladies alike, as if a woman could only be a trifle.

I guess this is the ‘talking down’ to women that is seen by men in many of the Victorian dramas we see but is that really a surprise when women were not held up as equals as they supposedly are today. (I say supposedly as wages for a man and women doing certain jobs are less). It seems strange to me that with a Queen and a very successful one at that married women had limited rights, the husband was in charge of her legally and bound to protect her, and she was expected again legally to defer to the judgement of the husband. In fact everything hat a women brought into a marriage was the husbands even when divorced. Even if you were able to get a divorce opportunities for women to work was generally limited to the household, domestic service.

In talking with ladies of ordinary education, avoid political, scientific, or commercial topics, and choose only such subjects as are likely to be of interest to them. Remember that people take more interest in their own affairs than in anything else which you can name. If you wish your conversation to be thoroughly agreeable, lead a mother to talk of her children, a young lady of her last ball, an. Author of his forthcoming book, or an artist of his exhibition picture.

This is a very good point even today and I guess most of us probably still do this anyway, I mean what point is there in talking politics or literature to someone who has no knowledge or interest in it.

Having furnished the topic, you need only listen; and you are sure to be thought not only agreeable, but thoroughly sensible and well-informed. Be careful, however, on the other hand, not always to make a point of talking to persons upon general matters relating to their professions. To show an interest in their immediate concerns is flattering; but to converse with them too much about their own arts looks as if you thought them ignorant of other topics.

So the conversation needs to be a balanced one.

Do not use a classical quotation in the presence of ladies without apologising for, or translating it. Even this should only be done when no other phrase would aptly express your meaning. Whether in the presence of ladies or gentlemen, much display of learning is pedantic and out-of-place.

Indeed and as they say down my way ‘de gustibus non est disputandum’!!

There is a certain distinct but subdued tone of voice which is peculiar to only well-bred persons. A loud voice is both disagreeable and vulgar. It is better to err by the use too low low a tone than too loud a tone.

Loud shouty people especially when on a train on bus journey, why can;t they realise they are making everyone’s life a little harder and just shut up.

Remember that all “slang” is vulgar. It has become of late unfortunately prevalent, and we have known even Indies pride themselves on the saucy chique with which they adopt certain Americanisms, and other cant phrases of the day. Such habits cannot be too severely reprehended. They lower the tone of society and the standard of thought. It is a great mistake to suppose that slang is in any way a substitute for wit. The use of proverbs is equally vulgar in conversation ; and puns, unless they rise to the rank of witticisms, are to be scrupulously avoided. There is no greater nuisance in society than a dull and persevering punster.

Slang, now the arch-enemy of modern language ‘init’. It’s a worrying time when text talk crosses into verbal communication.

Dunce in a Victorian school!

It’s a sad time when the executive director of corporate and legal affairs at Tesco says ‘basic problems with literacy and numeracy and that many also have what you might call an attitude problem. She adds: “They don’t seem to understand the importance of a tidy appearance and have problems with timekeeping … Some seem to think that the world owes them a living.’ A sad reflection of the dumbing down or lowering of standards in our society today.

Long arguments in general company, however entertaining to the disputants, are tiresome to the last degree to all others. You should always endeavour to prevent the conversation from dwelling too long upon one topic. 

So keep it short and sweet, no beating around the bush as the saying goes.

Never interrupt a person who is speaking. It has been aptly said that “if you interrupt a speaker in the middle of his sentence, you act almost as rudely as if, when walking with a companion, you were to thrust yourself before him, and stop his progress.” To listen well, is almost as great an art as to talk well. It is not enough only to listen. You must endeavour to seem interested in the conversation of others. 

Sound advice today as well. Listening is something we as a society seemed to have dispensed with as we have been sucked into the mire of the market and self-interest above all else.


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