|If we go farther back toward the dining table, we shall find that the disgusting habit grows even more pronounced, and that the table itself is often a witness of the indelicate proceeding. — A trio of antique toothpicks from the 18th and 19th centuries, from the book, “What Have We Here? The Etiquette and Essentials of Lives Once Lived, from the Georgian Era through the Gilded Age and Beyond...”|
The Fall of the Toothpick
If there is one thing more than another which needs correction, in the ranks of what pass for cultivated people, it is the prominence of the toothpick. No sight is more common, about the dinner hour, than to see knots of men gathered in front of hotels and boarding houses, standing on street corners, riding in public conveyances or else where, with a toothpick ostentatiously protruding from the mouth, or with the said wooden splinter in diligent use as an excavator. If we go farther back toward the dining table, we shall find that the disgusting habit grows even more pronounced, and that the table itself is often a witness of the indelicate proceeding.
It is a matter of congratulation, therefore, that a better habit is asserting itself, in witness of which the following extract from a hotel journal may be quoted: “The practice of serving toothpicks, as a course, is no longer observed in polite society. Neither are they used as a sideboard decoration and a centerpiece for the table. Neither are they served along with after-dinner coffee, and it is not polite to pick the teeth at table; it is rather the act of a scavenger, even if the face and mouth are covered by a napkin, as some people. seem to think is correct. Really refined people suffer pain rather than to pick their teeth at the table. A person might as well brush the teeth at a meal, and it would be quite as agreeable a diversion.
“The toothpick is properly an article of toilet and for the bathroom and the dressing room, and not for the dining-room. People do not clean their nails at the table, which would be far more preferable than the opening of cavernous, mouths. The time has really come when something should be said about this disgusting toothpick fad. Better go to the dentist and have the holes plugged up with gold and cement, instead of prying meat out with a toothpick. The whole thing is pandering to a low taste instead of a high one, and it is high time that it ceased to be a custom, or to be tolerated as such.”— Original in Good Housekeeping, 1892
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