I was recently discussing the etymology of certain words with a French friend. We bounced back and forth between the English meaning I wanted to express and searched for the French word that most accurately communicated it.
We discussed the concept of doing what was ‘right’, and then discussed the distinctions–and translations–for what was ‘correct’, ‘legal’, ‘ethical’, and ‘fair.’ ‘Right’ quickly came to be a broad, vague term under the microscope of an educated Frenchmen’s mind.
Then, the word ‘etiquette’ came up in the conversation. I learned that the word originally referred to a tag that was attached to a piece of luggage or a package in order to identify who it belonged to. Literally, a ‘ticket’, which it sounds a little like.
Today, our word ‘ticket’ often refers to a document that allows one entry into an event or passage onto a boat, train, or airplane. (Law enforcement citations as well, but that’s another post…)
How appropriate, I thought to myself: etiquette is still your ticket.
If you learn it–and practice its offspring, manners–you will be allowed into more places than you would be without it. You will be able to go farther with it in your possession than you would without it. And it will still identify you as the person who possesses it, as did the ‘ticket’ that was affixed to luggage and parcels so many years ago.
So, as much as the meaning of words change over time, they often still remain surprisingly the same, if we’ll just take a moment to think about them.