A medieval table setting.
The Medieval Beginnings Of 'No Elbows On The Table' Etiquette
It's difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of the “no elbows on the table” rule, but there's general agreement that it emerged during medieval times, most likely in England.
Feasts and banquets in the Middle Ages were popular, jam-packed affairs, and placing elbows on tables could possibly jostle plates, glasses, or silverware.
It also invaded people’s space, which led to arguments or even physical fights. Therefore, elbows were banished in the name of politeness and a conflict-free dining experience.
Another theory suggests that medieval feasts often took place on trestles instead of more robust dining tables. Food would be placed on one side, while diners sat on the other.
If a guest leaned heavily on the table with their elbows, these trestles, often precariously balanced on a number of legs or supports, could collapse.
According to The Gale Review, a 17th-century book titled “A Gentlewoman's Companion” also mentions this rule, describing elbows on the table as a “ravenous gesture.”
This implied an aggressive hunger that would be considered uncouth when dining among higher society. It was also believed that placing elbows on the table could lead to slouching.
Slouching was a separate faux pas at more formal dining settings, so in the name of classiness elbows on the table were forbidden during these occasions as well.