As ironic as many modern day readers might find it, Emily Post absolutely detests pretentious behavior. From what I can tell thus far, Emily does not define pretension, but rather provides her reader with examples of it. The examples range a variety of behaviors, but they all seem to fall under the broad category of behaviors that feign culture. Emily believes that false presentations of culture have become so problematic that she states culture to be:
[a] word rarely used by those who truly possess it, but so constantly misused by those who understand nothing of its meaning, that it is becoming a synonym for vulgarity and imitation.In her world, the cultural impostor is a person in the poorest of taste. Right below the cultural impostor on Emily's list of people she holds in low regard is the individual who misguidedly exhibits behaviors in attempt to display evidence of culture and good taste when, in reality, those behaviors, per se, are evidence of the contrary. For example, as the last paragraph in chapter on long letters, Emily writes:
[n]ever sprinkle French, Italian, or any other foreign words through a letter written in English. You do not give an impression of cultivation, but of ignorance of your own language. Use a foreign word if it has no English equivalent, not otherwise unless it has become Anglicized. If hesitating between two words, always select the one of Saxon origin rather than Latin. For the best selection of words to use, study the King James version of the Bible.
Aside from the ethnocentrism with which Emily writes, her point makes a great deal of sense. It seems only proper that when writing to someone that you would use the vocabulary that the reader of your letter would most likely be acquainted. And, in 1922 America, most people would be at least well versed in the language of the Bible.
This thread of analysis leads us to Emily's central point on what makes good etiquette. To Emily Post, good etiquette is the practice of making people comfortable. And, from what I can tell, pretension tends to make people uncomfortable, and that is why it's so bad.
This post is part of an occasional series highlighting the rules of etiquette as recorded in 1922, by Emily Post in her seminal text Etiquette.