How It Became Bad Manners To Eat With Elbows On The Table

Who said elbows on the table was a no-no? Probably one of your parents or someone older and seemingly wiser who said you would have to forego dessert if they saw those grubby elbows anywhere near your plate. But have you ever wondered why having your elbows on the table during a meal or afternoon tea is considered taboo? Some call it bad form, while others call it a lack of social decorum. However we label it, some people simply consider it bad manners for anyone to put their elbows on the table while eating. 

To be sure, we would never do it while eating a meal with a stately Queen Elizabeth, or while daintily noshing on Kate Middleton's favorite dessert while dining at Buckingham Palace (if we could score an invite). But what about when it's just friends and family? Are elbows on the table really worth our disdain? Where did it all begin?

Per WFRE-FM, table etiquette might have originated in "The Bible," specifically in the "Book of Ecclesiastes," where reference is made to feeling shame for "stretching your elbow at dinner." The Good Book definitely became the law of the land because according to Margaret Visser, who wrote "The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners," we were all about putting our best foot forward in those times. Visser said, "Table manners prevented us from leaving our space and starting a fight," according to Reader's Digest.

There's a practical reason

Fast forward to the present and the practice has become so ingrained in our society that there are even rhymes like, "Mabel, Mabel, strong and able, Get your elbows off the table, This is not a horse's stable," to shame young kids to mind their Ps and Qs at the dinner table (via Culinary Lore). But in what way are elbows on the table truly gauche or rude besides possibly getting in someone else's way?

Apparently, there is a practical reason for not allowing your elbows to take over the table. Diane Gottsman, the founder of The Protocol School of Texas, told Southern Living, "I personally am not a fan of elbows on the table because it is easy to spill or knock over a glass, and it simply appears unsightly — similar to looking anxious for the next course!" That seems like a fair reason to keep those pesky elbows away. However, according to, if there's no food on the table, all bets are off and you should feel free to place those elbows on the table and engage in arm wrestling or fun conversation.