An Old World friend of mine taught me a long time ago how to recognize if someone was born into “Old Money” or not. You identify Old Money not by their houses or cars or their shoes or by the watches they wear.

Those tokens are nouveau trinkets indicating no generationally seeded wealth.

Those born into wealth never move their elbows.

Old Money elbows are never engaged from their station on each side of the body because that unbending posture suggests no manual labor has ever been necessary.

Staff are paid to do all the heavy lifting. If Old Money engages their elbows, they insult their ancestors while betraying their genetic entitlement and “that just isn’t done.”

I… keep… trying… to type… this without… moving… my elbows!


  1. Hi David,
    The rich can type without bending their elbows by dictating to their personal secretaries.
    They get their emails printed out and dictate replies that the staff send out because computers are tools for the staff.
    They also never dial their phones — they just buzz their receptionist on the speakerphone and ask him or her to make the call.
    Forget about determining the old money by their cars — they probaby aren’t in some expensive sports car, but instead some black Lincoln with dark-tinted windows. If they are in the city, they might just have a car service do all that bothersome elbow bending required when turning the steering wheel.
    When you’re done typing this Ms. Secretary, please go to the cleaners and pick up my French cuff shirts and polish my cuff-links, please.
    Also, check my email and print out everything. I’ll dictate responses to be typed up later today.
    Thank you, that is all for now.

  2. Gah! That’s the trick, Chris! I need to hire someone to do my typing!
    We appreciate the time you have given us!
    Have you noticed the “no elbow” rule? I have seen it in action. It is magnificently funny to recognize because you are immediately clued in to that person’s personality and expectation without having to utter a word!

  3. I remember a political science professor predicting that Dukakis wouldn’t win the election because he didn’t move his arms when walked.
    People wouldn’t notice it consciously, but subconsciously they’d determine that he wasn’t one the “regular” guys that all pols try to be and would reject him.
    The same visual cues came through in Dukakis’ tank-ride and that’s why it failed for him, but would have worked for someone else.
    From Wikipedia:

    Dukakis orchestrated what would become the key image of his campaign, albeit not for the reasons he intended.
    In September 1988, Dukakis visited the General Dynamics plant in Michigan to take part in a photo op in an M1 Abrams tank.
    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom had been photographed in a similar situation in 1986, riding in a Challenger while wearing a scarf; although somewhat out of character, the image was effective and helped Thatcher’s re-election prospects.
    Dukakis’ “tank moment” was much less successful.
    Filmed wearing a safety helmet that seemed too large for his head, Dukakis looked awkward, out of place, and decidedly uncomfortable in a military setting.
    Footage of Dukakis was used by the Bush campaign as evidence he would not make a good commander-in-chief, and “Dukakis in the tank” remains shorthand for backfired public relations outings.

    We instinctively notice the way people move and sometimes the elite and the genetically rich move in ways that normal people don’t. It makes them stand out, even if we don’t know why they stand out from the rest of us.

  4. That’s totally new to me. But then again I don’t know too many people with people waiting on them.

  5. A S —
    It isn’t so much the idea of people waiting on them — but the idea that people are expected to wait on them.
    If you go to a museum, look around. You’ll see the elbows thing in action. You’ll see it in the majority if you go to a museum cocktail party!
    Paris Hilton doesn’t really move her elbows and neither does Donald Trump or his children.
    You really see the elbows thing in the ancient European families who are the descendants of kings and other imperial leaders.
    There was a reality show a while back consisting of super-rich kids on a cattle drive and it was quite fascinating to watch them not want to really work.

  6. Hi David,
    This could create a new subdomain for Urban Semiotic: Bio Semiotic.
    Body language and gestures influence the message a person is trying to convey.
    We pick up on cues and there’s something about an elistist posture that goes against the American equalitarian spirit.
    The same thing is true for anything out of the norm about someone’s posture or movements.
    That’s why “geeky” kids get picked on by other kids because they often move in ways that are different than the other kids.

  7. Here’s something interesting from a guide to power body language relating to elbows:

    Walk with exaggerated swinging of arms, palm down and out. Kink elbows outwards, making the body seem wider. Add a slight swagger.

    Emphasis added.
    Notice that all of the heroes in Hollywood movies have this body language. They usually aren’t the Monty Burns types either.
    Many Blue bloods have an opposite air. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Trump’s elbow movements next time Apprentice airs. I did notice that trumpts always sound when he enters a room to speak to the contestants.
    Most wastrels, ala Paris Hilton, hold themselves in a posture opposite from the American hero.
    It’s also interesting that slackers also have the same posture — sans the money.
    “A typical slacker is characterized by a static, unenthusiastic air manifesting in an apparent lack of effort,” writes Wikipedia.
    The slacker description could apply to many of the old money types who often seemingly aren’t impressed by many things — including the hoi polloi.

  8. Terrific research, Chris!
    I’m with you all the way on all your points.
    Monty Burns is the perfect example of elbows that never move from the sides but the hands are always held near the mouth — it’s such a bizarre stance!
    Love the idea for “Bio Semiotic!” Yazzah!!
    Our current national leader definitely has the “walking swagger” down pat — but to some it looks more like a “swaggering smirk.”

  9. You have to be careful with too much swagger — otherwise you might end up looking like John Travolta on Saturday Night Fever and become a parody.
    There’s an interesting picture of J.P. Morgan — who rose from middle management to the heights of power — on PBS’ webpage about him.
    Notice how he isn’t afraid to bend his elbow while attempting to administer a beating to a photographer with his cane. A larger picture is available at Wikipedia.
    The inheritance crowd would never resort to violence.
    That’s the security staff’s assignment.

  10. Ooo! Those pictures are great, Chris! I love it!
    You’re right about walking with too much swagger. You can become a caricature of what you really want to portray.

  11. How many generations of wealth does it take to become “Old Money”? Or take on the “Old Money” mentality?

  12. Hi A S!
    For “maximum elbow effect” I would say two generations to get the form down right and since your children imitate you they almost immediately become part of the Old Money posture as soon as they are born.

  13. Never heard that one about old and new money before – but we are the other side of the ocean.
    When I was a child my mother told me to look at jewellery as an indicator – if it was “paste” or not and what style and how old it was. Old money had real stones and was often inherited ………. and was of course always *tasteful* and not glarish !

  14. I think it’s the ‘no elbow’ mentality that works…
    I had a friend (acquaintance, to be precise!) who used to wait his side of car door to be opened –
    He looked like a puppet – in every sense of the term!

  15. It’s pretty much the same David!
    The ‘so called’ friend of mine I was talking about was from India and belonged to the same category.
    The number of ‘people to wait on them’ exceeded the number of their family members; they used to take pride in it.

  16. Wouldnt you get cramps? That’s too funny. Must be on the watch out. And if I’m lucky, maybe they’re looking for a girlfriend. Hey, I can do that no moving of elbows imitation quite fine and can blend in at request. 🙂

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