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Miss Manners: She who smelt it should hush up about it

Mon., Jan. 24, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS:Please don’t think I am being vulgar, but I need the solution to an unfortunate problem.

In a large gathering that includes children, someone inevitably passes gas. All the adults in the group immediately drop everything and lunge around, checking each child’s pants and demanding to know who needs a clean diaper. It usually happens more than once, and obviously interrupts the flow of conversation and leads to embarrassment.

The worst example is a childless and keen-nosed lady of my acquaintance who persists in interrogating each of my children in turn, trying to track down the source of any odor. Meanwhile, the (adult) perpetrator squirms in embarrassment and waits for normal conversation to resume.

What’s the solution, Miss Manners? Must someone finally make a shameful confession? Announce “Excuse me”? Should we pin the blame on one of the children and say, “Little Roy has had terrible gas all day”?

My sister just says, “Oh, that dog smells awful,” but we don’t have a dog. And in any case, I would prefer not to have to discuss body functions at all. Don’t polite people overlook this issue altogether? What do you recommend?

GENTLE READER:That you all stop making a conspicuous game out of this, tempting a nonplayer to go for the championship.

It is true that the freelance interrogator is impolite, so as not to say a bit revolting; the passing of gas should go unmentioned. But you should be teaching manners to your children, not your contemporaries.

These children, who are old enough to be interrogated although young enough to be in diapers, are instead being taught that the contents of their diapers are of public interest. This is not a social habit that will endear them to others.

Miss Manners suggests that you begin practicing, as well as teaching, discretion. Instead of all the parents sniffing around like a bunch of hounds on the trail of a fox, each should quietly ask any of their own children who are under suspicions if they and you “need to be excused.” This is the phrase the child should learn to use as you encourage him or her to volunteer the predicament to you without calling more attention to it than nature already has.

Visit Miss Manners at her website,, where you can send her your questions.

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