Definition of Etiquette

True Definition of Etiquette

Formal dinner party
  Caiaimage/Robert Daly / Getty Images

Have you ever wondered about the true meaning of etiquette? Do you instantly think of the manners you'll learn in charm school when someone mentions the word?

When many people think about etiquette, the first thing that pops into their minds is knowing which fork to use at a formal dinner or how to shake hands with someone. While those are important things to know, it doesn't get to the foundation of what etiquette really is.

Basic Definition

The word "etiquette" comes from the French word "estique," meaning to attach or stick. The noun "etiquette" describes the requirements of behaviors according to conventions of society. It includes the proper conduct that is established by a community for various occasions, including ceremonies, court, formal events and everyday life.

The short definition at is "the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave." The full definition is "the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life."

Essence of Etiquette

Most of the etiquette experts agree that proper etiquette begins by showing respect for others, being honest and trustworthy, putting others at ease, and showing kindness and courtesy to others. Only after that should you focus on the details of specific situations.

"Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiqette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor." Emily Post

Etiquette Through the Generations

What disappoints a lot of folks who grew up in families that instilled etiquette and good manners in their children is that these important skills are not being passed down to the next generation in many families. So many children have never been taught that they need to be aware of others, allow personal space, follow the Golden Rule, obey the 10 Commandments, and respect their elders.

Code of Conduct and Behavior

Etiquette includes having a strong moral code of conduct. Contrary to what some people say, all of our actions affect others. All you have to do is watch a reality TV show, and you can see that. If you must have famous role models, pay attention to celebrities who are gracious and courteous. Parents need to monitor what their children see, and when a famous person exhibits bad manners, use it as an opportunity to teach what the person should have done.

Teaching Etiquette and Manners to Children

How can anyone show what they don't know? Children need to be taught good manners, praised when they follow the rules, and corrected when they don't. It is a parent's responsibility, but other adults in the children's lives need to cooperate and assist when possible.

Here are some tips on teaching children proper etiquette:

Adult Manners

Children aren't the only ones who need manners lessons. All you have to do is take a look around when you're out in the public to see adults who should know better than to behave the way they do. Chances are, they were taught as children, but unless they've been practicing, they've forgotten the basics of good manners.

Here are some guidelines to refresh what you know or should know about etiquette:

Follow these guidelines for communicating with others:

Things to Consider

Etiquette includes a wide range of behaviors, including kindness, consideration, elegance, style, and decorum. Here are some quick tips to help you with the social graces:

  • Ask yourself if the behavior is kind or generous before engaging in the act.
  • Make sure you are putting others first without putting yourself down.
  • Practice good etiquette so that it comes naturally and from the heart.
  • Since etiquette varies from one society to another and periodically changes, continue to learn the new rules and follow them.


Edited by Debby Mayne