Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Deipnosophist - A Conversationalist to Dine For

A couple having dinner


Noun. Early 17th century.
[Greek deipnosophistes, used in plural as title of a work by Atheneus (3rd century AD),
describing long discussions at a banquet, from deipnon dinner + sophistes wise man.

A person skilled in the art of dining and table talk.

The bringing together of conversation and fine dining is a human custom as old as history itself. Few, however, are able to master this art, requiring as it does the adept use of one organ (the mouth) for two activities simultaneously. It's something akin to rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time ... with one hand.

Those that have the necessary oral and mental dexterity to pull this off, however, are rightly called by a suitably prestigious name: deipnosophists. Now I make no claim to this lofty title (pronounced dipe-noss-oh-fist); however, as someone with aristological leanings, and as a proponent of good conversation with the suitable bon enfant, I have through my years formed some basic tenets that every aspiring deipnosophist should adhere to. Here, on Lexicolatry, I have chosen to share these tenets for your edification:
  • When at a restaurant, don't order spaghetti bolognese. This is especially true if you're on a date, or wearing a white shirt.
  • Similarly, if attending a breakfast function, avoid muesli; sneezing with a mouthful of muesli is a faux pas that's simply beyond recovery.
  • A gentleman should familiarise himself with the proper use of cutlery. If you're unsure what each piece is for, remember that generally you work from the outside in (just don't tell anyone that you learnt this rule while watching Titanic).
  • Be cautious about broaching religion or politics. Feel free, however, to bring up grammar, correct use of the English language, and any interesting vocabulary blog you might happen to read.
  • If you're not funny, don't try to be; if you're not suave, don't try to be; if you're not sexy, don't try to be.
  • And finally, at any cost, and I really can't stress this enough: avoid dribbling. Whatever you're doing, whether it's making a case for saving the white rhino or trying to pull the person sat next to you, dribbling will irredeemably lose you all credibility. Forever.

  • If none of the above work, you could try and save the night by pulling a funny face.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to be a great deipnosophist?

    Do any particular table antics disqualify someone from being a true deipnosophist?

    Do please table your most conversational comments in the box below.


  1. And DO NOT dominate the conversation, especially if you are only talking about yourself. (I almost fell asleep during a deipno (thee-pno) party last Saturday; bo-ring!)

    1. Absolutely. And another thing (being serious now): I hate it when people have done everything!

      "I went scuba diving in Malta last year."
      "Oh yeah. I've been scuba diving there."
      "Yeah but I was taking an instructor's exam."
      "Oh yeah I've done that."
      "To work in marine salvage."
      "Yup. Done that."
      "Looking for lost UFOs ..."
      "And pink unicorns."
      "Done it all, mate."


    2. Sounds like a conversation with E. Needham.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. When drinking red wine, place the glass outside of the radius that your hands require when gesturing to emphasise what you are saying. e.g. You look lovely tonight darling. Otherwise you may end up with the wine in your lap and a similarly coloured face as you try to apologise and discreetly exit the restaurant. The radius of the danger zone increases exponentially with the number of glasses imbibed. (From personal experience).

    2. What expansive, glass-knocking gesture do you use when telling someone they look lovely? I see how that could really kill the compliment:

      "Well I did, thank you ... until you tipped a glass of wine into my lap."

    3. Ah. Well that's not so bad.

      "You look lovely tonight, darling."
      "How lovely?"
      "Wine-spillingly lovely."

  3. As much hypnotic deipnosophists sounds I do think that you should only reply to those who can't keep their mouths shut LOL.
    No talking when eating. Period.
    After eating you can indulge in some conversation - at the table or after moving to an area that must've been invented by Victorians - to stretch the occasion, the gathering.
    Now this is a art I don't want to have... we have a cantina here at the office and sometimes I go down to have a tea or something and one of the worst things that can happen - they don't have muesli or that would be the worst ;) - is to have a chatterbox asking "can I sit with you?" while already pulling the chair. Because I don't care for the "game" that ensues.

    "Just having my tea, we can talk when we meet at the corridor. I really don't want to gobble the tea so I can keep up. I stopped by for Tea not Tennis."

    I sound a (bit of) sociopath but people pull you in a whirlwind of noise all day long - I work in an open space with over 100 people so afraid of silence they start the morning stating the obvious "it's raining" "it's so hot" - that when eating I like my silence and quietness.

    1. I'm absolutely sure you are no sociopath, even a bit of one. Sociopath is a slightly more acceptable term for psychopath. A sociopath is described as "a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience". I expect that some successful deipnosophists are also socio/psychopaths. Google sociopath and see.

    2. I will google it, but not before going to bed. In silence ahahah
      Thank you for the reply, Eric. I know I'm not but I sound like one when I'm trying to swim against "everyone". ;)
      Take Care,

    3. Psychopaths often display superficial charm, apparently; so yes, I'm sure many of them are quite delightful deipnosophists.