June 12, 2013 in Features

Black wreath sentiment outdated

Judith Martin Universal Uclick
 

DEAR MISS MANNERS: There is a line in one of my mother’s favorite country music songs – something to the effect of “he stopped loving her today; they placed a wreath upon his door.”

I believe the song’s author is saying that “he” died. What can you tell me about the tradition of hanging a black wreath upon the door of a house in mourning? Is this a symbol that would be recognized today? Is the practice still in use? Should one have a black wreath on hand in the event a household member passes?

GENTLE READER: Etiquette used to have dozens of ways that the bereaved could warn people to treat them gently, such as black clothes, black-edged writing paper and black wreaths on the door.

But those were the days before the bizarre notion arose that what they really needed was to be urged to get past their grief and get on with their lives. Formal mourning has been dropped so thoroughly that few now understand what is disconcerting about bridesmaids in black dresses.

Miss Manners is afraid that conspicuous mourning would probably now have the unfortunate effect of encouraging the self-appointed therapists who think they can solve what they see as an attitude problem. If you put a black wreath on the door, they would only tell you that you should have taken down your Christmas wreath before it atrophied.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: The vendor I hired to make my wedding invitations has printed the following: “at half past six in the after evening.”

Is the use of “after evening” appropriate? I cannot find it anywhere online.

GENTLE READER: “After evening”? Isn’t that the time when the guests are supposed to have gone home?

Miss Manners hopes that you are not being charged by the word. Not only is that “after” senseless, but “in the evening” is also superfluous. Formality eschews word clutter, and believes that people have the sense to realize that weddings are not generally held at 6:30 in the morning.


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