What Does RSVP Stand For?
No doubt you have seen the acronym RSVP on many invitations over the course of your life. You probably already understand that it means that you are expected to let the host know whether you plan to attend the event to which you have been invited, but what does RSVP stand for? Surprising RSVP is not English at all, it actually stands for "répondez, s'il vous plaît," which means "please reply” in English. Most Western cultures expect that any invitation that includes an RSVP requires a written response indicating your acceptance or rejection of the offer. While this often seems quite formal, think of the needs of the host or hostess who has extended their hospitality to you. For example, a host or hostess who is planning a dinner or catered event must have a fairly solid handle on the number of guests to expect. Otherwise, that hostess may not have enough to provide adequately for all of her guests. Beyond this, a more straight forward reason for responding to an RSVP request is simply a show of appreciation and respect. After all, the host thought enough of you to offer an invitation, so you should reciprocate with a response back.
Understanding what RSVP stands for is only part of the answer. How has this French phrase made its way into the Western English lexicon? Historically it seems to have come to from the court of King Louis XIV in the late 17th and early 18thcenturies. At Versailles, yes that Versailles, the King had very specific rules for the behavior he expected for those lucky enough to be invited to a royal event. The rules expected for court behavior were fully documented on “tickets” or "étiquette.” This documentation was either posted on the grounds of Versailles, or was printed directly on the invitation sent from the king. While experts sometimes question whether this was the direct link between the use of RSVP and modern practices, it does seem to make quite a bit of sense. Certainly, the influence of King Louis XIV would have had some barring on world’s view of modern etiquette.
Regardless of whether the custom came from the courts of King Louis XIV’s, or whether the custom came accidentally over the course of years, there is certainly no doubt what RSVP stands for. It simply means that you, as an invited guest, should always respond to the host or hostess as both an offer of etiquette, and as a sign of appreciation and respect. So the next time you see those letter – RSVP, make sure that you take a few moments to do the right thing and send your written response. Whether you ultimately go or not, you will have fulfilled your social contract and you will have done the right thing.