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What’s the Correct Way to Wish Happy Birthday to a Dead Person?

On this day in 1872 Emily Post was born. Post set etiquette standards for Americans for most of the 20th century by adapting high society rules of behavior for a wider class of people — but class was still the operative word. Women were “ladies” and men were “gentlemen,” and her books on etiquette still presumed a level of education and sophistication associated with higher incomes and bigger cities.

The book that made her famous, 1922’s Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, can be found in its entirety here, and includes some crackerjack advice, especially if you’re living in a manor with servants and go to the opera for entertainment.

Some of it is comically outdated, of course. For example:

“A gentleman on the street never shakes hands with a lady without first removing his right glove.”

“Fat women should never wear elaborate clothes or clothes of light colors or heavily feathered hats.”

Some of the advice still applies. Or rather, it should apply:

“No child will ever accept a maxim that is preached but not followed by the preacher. It is a waste of breath for the father to order his sons to keep their temper, to behave like gentlemen, or to be good sportsmen, if he does or is himself none of these things.”

Another tip about being a good sportsman that would be good to remember for World Series fans:

“To be a good sportsman, one must be a stoic and never show rancor in defeat, or triumph in victory, or irritation, no matter what annoyance is encountered.”

Happy birthday, Mrs. Post, and good luck, sports fans.

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