General Question

Trance24's avatar

Why did elbows off the table become proper dinner etiquette?

Asked by Trance24 (3311points) March 8th, 2009
30 responses
“Great Question” (4points)

Like who decided this? Why is it considered more proper? Was there a specific event in history in why this became the way that it did?

Observing members: 0
Composing members: 0


Lothloriengaladriel's avatar

omg quail man!!!!!!!!!!!! i love your avatar!! as for the question, not sure =/ but it is sort of weird to have your arms all over and hunched over the table I guess (while someones eating) idk..

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I was raised with the rhyme:

“Mabel, Mabel, strong and able,
Get your elbows off the table.
This is not a horse’s stable,
But it is a dining table.”

Mr_M's avatar

I would have wondered if Mabel was a dead sibling nobody ever told me about and became traumatized.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t know, but I think it is an entirely out-dated rule. I could understand if you were packed in at the dinner table, and keeping elbows off the table created more room for everyone. Generally though, that’s not the case.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

My mother, would then say, “if you’re too tired to eat properly, then you may be excused.”

Elbows on the table is generally accompanied by either holding your head up, or fork-waving. The first denotes boredom, in which case you may be excused, and the later looks alarmingly dangerous, like you’re about to spear your eyeball like an olive or fling food across the table..

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

And you get extra Lurve somehow for Doug and Porkchop!

marinelife's avatar

In the middle ages, people sat on only one side of the trestle table, which was a top laid across two sawhorses (essentially). If they put their elbows (and thus their weight) on the table, it would have tipped into their laps.

augustlan's avatar

@Trance24 Psst. I just noticed the typo in your question title! It should read etiquette. :-)

steve6's avatar

mad skills

casheroo's avatar

I’m a rebel, I keep them on the table.

SeventhSense's avatar

Probably so you wouldn’t knock things over and it has a more disciplined genteel appearance

KatawaGrey's avatar

I always figured it was to keep from putting your elbows on someone else’s plate.

SeventhSense's avatar


tinyfaery's avatar

I don’t know anyone who follows this rule anymore.

Darwin's avatar

At least one business advice site say elbows on the table will interfere with your neighbor’s ability to eat his/her food:

“Keep your elbows off the table while eating. It can interfere with the person seated next to you. After the meal has been cleared, you may put your elbows on the table in order to lean forward to join in conversation.” (

And another anonymous guy says it is because when your elbows are on the table it makes you hunch over so that there is pressure on your stomach that interferes with digestion.

I also see several sources of the one-sided trestle table tale but no actual documentation.

And then there is this: “Some people think we don’t put elbows on the table because, while most animals don’t have elbows, our close cousins the apes do. We don’t like to think we’re apes.” (

Most of our modern etiquette is left over from the Victorian period, when upper class people never had enough to do so they invented huge numbers of social rules to differentiate themselves from lesser beings. I suspect many of our “manners” date to that period, although some may have earlier roots. In any case, if you put your elbows on the table you take up more space than someone who doesn’t. That might make them angry and since they already have a knife handy, who knows what mayhem might break out?

SeventhSense's avatar

Fine dining still follows rules of etiquette. Place setting, napkin in lap etc. Chew with your mouth closed. It’s a sign of class.

elijah's avatar

Elbows on the table really bother me. To me it looks like you are hunched over your food frantically shoveling it in like a caveman. I tell my kids to relax, no one is coming to swipe the plate. I had a dinner guest who would eat with his elbows on the table, and my kids kept looking at me to see if I would say something. Since it was a friend I had no problem telling him (in a joking way) to take his elbows off the table and we laughed about it. He was never taught that as a child.

tinyfaery's avatar

Ooh class. Yet another prejudice.

elijah's avatar

Manners are important.

tinyfaery's avatar

Manners are situational. When I’m at home I eat with my cats on the table, not to mention my elbows. If I’m with other people and my elbows are bothering them then I will remove them. I just don’t appreciate classism.

elijah's avatar

I agree there are times when manners are flexible. Sometimes I eat breakfast in bed, with my dog, while watching tv. I don’t worry about my elbows.
When a group gathers to eat (consisting of 2 legged creatures) we sit at the table and use manners. I assumed the question meant when we are out in public or with other people.
So yes, I agree that it is situational.

jca's avatar

i was raised to do all this stuff, left hand on lap, cut meat with knife in right hand, fork in left and then switch – and when holding the fork while cutting, don’t hold it with all fingers around the handle and thumb on top. my mother took a lot of time with me getting me to get these things right. i am a little critical (in my mind only) when i see people not doing these things, because to me, it looks like nobody took the time to teach them properly. yes, i know it sounds uppity.

at home, however, it’s all about comfort. i eat on the bed and will allow the cats to eat off my eating utensils, and drink water out of my glass if they want. so i have a “public facade” and a “private facade.”

jca (36054points)“Great Answer” (1points)
tiffyandthewall's avatar

i guess when meals were sort of big events, it was just one of those table etiquette things, but i think it’s pretty outdated. i mean, unless you’re like, lying in your food, i don’t see a problem with elbows on the table. but then again, i don’t see a problem with cats on the table either.
i think the manners that matter are the ones that actually affect the way i view a person. elbows on the table don’t make me think any more or less of someone.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Table manners are never outdated.

Darwin's avatar

@tiffyandthewall – The biggest problem I can see about cats on the table is that their lightning fast reflexes mean you may not get to eat your dinner, or at least the good bits of your dinner. Cats don’t usually mess with lima beans but they sure go for pork chops and chicken!

As to elbows on the table, it depends on how crowded your table is – if you have a small table but a big family, the one person who puts elbows on the table may prevent you from being able to get to your food without being double jointed.

tinyfaery's avatar

Everything becomes outdated, just give it long enough.

jca's avatar

the thing about having good table manners is that if you ever go out to a nice restaurant, people notice, and if you eat like a buffoon you look like a buffoon. at least to have the knowledge of how to eat properly is helpful, so that when necessary, you fit in. people do judge on stuff like that (whether or not we like that they do, they do).

jca (36054points)“Great Answer” (1points)
JellyB's avatar

I dunno, but i think it’s outdated too, and i don’t like it.

Fritzvogt's avatar

I think a good question (since it is mine) is how (why) am I responsible for someone elses feelings (how they might judge me) on this matter. Is there some natural law here?

Darwin's avatar

@Fritzvogt – Stick your elbow in my food, and I will cut it off. Is that enough of a natural law for you?

Answer this question




to answer.

Mobile | Desktop

Send Feedback