In Reply to: Keep your elbows off of the table posted by Karyl on March 27, 2009 at 14:06:
: The origin of the saying,"Keep your elbows off of the table". Originally, I just thought this was proper etiquette. Actually, I found out by my father (a history genius), this actually derived from the colonies during the 17th and 18th century. A group of British sailors called "Impressment gangs" would come into taverns, etc. looking for men who had their elbows on the table either eating or drinking. Having one's elbows on the table would mean they were in previous service as a sailor or merchant marine. (Having ones elbows on the table whilst holding a cup or plate, would prevent it from spilling). These "Impressment Gangs" were impressed by the way these men would be eating, and abduct them to serve on British ships. This was completely legal at the time, and this practice occurred in the colonies, Canada, and even Britain.
I'm afraid your father is no history genius: keeping elbows off tables is indeed just a matter of etiquette, and his tale is pure invention.
1. The Royal Navy had "press gangs", organised by the Impress (not "Impressment") Service, authorised to seek out seamen and compel them to serve in the Navy. (This was a rough-and-ready form of conscription; all sailors who were subjects of the British Crown were in theory liable to serve in the Navy when wanted, and as true-born Britons felt it would be despotic and tyrannical to keep a register of seamen so that they could be called up in an orderly way, there was no alternative to simply grabbing them off thew street or from the tavern. Records of the Impress service mention a number of ways in which sailors could be identified: their clothes and hairstyles (sailors' trousers and pigtails were distinctive), tattoos (a purely maritime custom) and language (the jargon of the sea). No recorded case nor any memoirist of the time mentions anything about elbows on tables. This is a fantasy. (VSD)