What Does Standing on Ceremony Mean?

Standing on Ceremony Meaning

Definition: To insist on conforming strictly to formalities or protocol.

Origin of Standing on Ceremony

In this expression, to stand on means to adhere to or to insist on. Ceremony can refer to overly polite behavior or any rules that are required in formal settings, rules that might seem silly in informal settings.

The phrase dates from the late-18th/early-19th centuries. An early example of it can be found in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, 1798:

  • I never stand upon ceremony.

For example, a prince might bow to his mother, the queen, in public ceremonies to show formality and respect. This would be one way of standing on ceremony.

However, when the prince and the queen are spending time together alone, as family, he might be more relaxed and give her a hug instead. In this latter case, they aren’t standing on ceremony.

Nowadays the word not usually precedes this expression, or some other negative phrase. One common example is there is no need to stand on ceremony.

Examples of Standing on Ceremony

stand on ceremony definition In the example below, two siblings are at a dance.

Jordan: I just saw you ask one of the girls, “May I have this dance?”

James: So what?

Jordan: You also bowed to her when she accepted.

James: And?

Jordan: This is an informal dance, not a ball where everyone is waltzing. You don’t have to stand on ceremony. I’m worried everyone will think you’re weird if you keep acting so formal.

stand on ceremony definition In the second dialogue, two co-workers are complaining about their boss.

Job: I’m so frustrated. Our boss wants us to call him sir now. I’m not sure why we can’t just continue calling him David, which I’ve called him for years.

Melissa: I know. He also wants us to greet him in his office every morning and give him a formal report of our plans for the day.

Job: I know that he wants us to look more professional, but the way he wants us to stand on ceremony is ridiculous. We are the only three people in this department. There’s no need to be this formal and follow the protocol of a much bigger department.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a restaurant that isn’t fancy but has delicious food.

  • But while the restaurant may not stand on ceremony, the quality of food remains held to a high standard: fish ‘n’ chips exhibited a perfectly golden crisp, seared salmon was a symphony of crunchy exterior and tender meat, a poached egg broken over a salad of tossed greens released a flawless stream of golden yolk. –Poughkeepsie Journal

The second example is from an author thanking her readers for reading her manners column.

  • Here in flip-flop nation we have perfected laid back casual into an art form. Maybe it’s the have-a-nice-day climate, but as a rule we don’t often stand on ceremony. –OC Register


The idiom to stand on ceremony means to strictly adhere to formalities or ceremonial rituals.