Thursday, August 18, 2016

the advancing elegance of spittoons

An early-American etiquette primer once observed tangentially, "... and if you must spit, spit in the corner."

Or maybe not. I can't recall the primer and can't cite the source but I find it hard to believe that if I had conjured the injunction out of my own whole cloth I wouldn't lay a kind of doting claim to it: I do like the thrusts that carve away politesse and get down to the nitty-gritty -- spitting being one of them.

The line calls up an atmosphere in my mind -- a newish nation with dusty main streets and wealth slowly amassing. Politesse requires the inroads of cosseted wealth. The beginning of the Jonses against whom other poor slobs might wish to measure themselves. Lace well-washed and pressed; wigs powdered and a lady's hand to kiss until ... until...

Until ... "if you must spit, spit in the corner."

Everyone needs to eat, piss and occasionally, spit. But let's keep it decorous in these advancing times. In earlier times, men retired after dinner for a sequestered period with their cigars and brandy and a respite from the decorous advances. After a while, they too might become more decorous than was comfortable, but the amenities were observed and women read books of etiquette.

Spittoons for tobacco. Spittoons for the dental office. Spittoons for the je ne sais quoi that life and salivary glands can dish up.

No need to be an utter dirt-road klutz.

Show some class.

Spit in the corner.

Women, it appears, do not spit:


  1. John Garretson, from The School of Manners. Or Rules for Childrens Behaviour: At Church, at Home, at Table, in Company, in Discourse, at School, abroad, and among Boys. With some other short and mixt Precepts (1701)

    Chap. V.

    Rules for Behaviour in Company

    Enter not into the Company of Superiors without command of calling; nor without a bow.

    Sit not down in presence of Superiors without bidding.

    Put not thy hand in the presence of others to any part of thy body, not ordinarily discovered.

    Sing not nor hum in thy mouth while thou art in company.

    Play not wantonly like a Mimick with thy Fingers or Feet.

    Stand not wriggling with thy body hither and thither, but steddy and upright.

    In coughing or sneesing make as little noise as possible.

    If thou cannot avoid yawning, shut thy Mouth with thine Hand or Handkerchief before it, turning thy Face aside.

    When thou blowest thy Nose, let thy Handkerchief be used, and make not a noise in so doing.

    Gnaw not thy Nails, pick them not, nor bite them with thy teeth.

    Spit not in the Room, but in a corner, and rub it out with thy Foot, or rather go out and do it abroad.

    Lean not upon the Chair of a Superior, standing behind him.

    Spit not upon the fire, nor sit too wide with thy Knees at it.

    Sit not with thy legs crossed, but keep them firm and setled, and thy Feet even.

    Turn not thy back to any, but place thyself conveniently, that none be behind thee.

    Read not Letters, Books, nor other Writings in Company, unless there be necessity, and thou ask leave.

    Touch not nor look upon the Books or Writings of any one, unless the Owner invite or desire thee.

    Come not near when another reads a Letter or Paper.

    Let thy Countenance be moderately chearful, neither laughing nor frowning.

    Laugh not aloud, but silently Smile upon occasion.

    Walking with thy Superior in the house or Garden, give him the upper or righthand, and walk not just even with him cheek be joll, but a little behind him, yet not so distant as that it shall be troublesome to him to speak to thee, or hard for thee to hear.

    Look not boldly or willfully in the Face of thy Superior.

    To look upon one in company and immediately whisper to another is unmannerly.

    Stand not before Superiors with thine hands in thy pockets, scratch not thy Head, wink not with thine Eyes, but thine Eyes modestly looking straight before thee, and thine Hands behind thee.

    Be not among Equals froward and fretful, but gentle and affable.

    Whisper not in company.

  2. Thanks Charlie. My life and comportment are improved by your research.