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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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We’re all guilty of repetitiousness

Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

He’s talking about his children’s athletic triumphs. She’s talking about her grudges against the health care system. They’re talking about their favorite vacation spot.

And there isn’t a soul within hearing distance who hasn’t heard it all before.

Before the trapped listeners start screaming or crying, Miss Manners would like to remind them that everyone has a Topic A. It is the subject that suddenly awakens a person to the joy of one-way conversation consisting of set pieces with a fixed point of view, delivered in wording that has been honed by use.

It could be about almost anything, with a slant that is either gloomy or proud and with a corresponding effect that is depressing or insufferable. Some favorites are:

Personal illness, either because no one has been able to cure the speaker, or because he or she found a miracle cure that would benefit everyone else, if only they could be persuaded to try it.

Holiday destinations, either because the food and the warmth of the people are superior to anything at home, or because they are so markedly inferior.

The surprising truth about a famous figure, either someone alive who is a fraud, or someone long dead whom history has judged unfairly.

An encounter with a celebrity, either because a quick incident proved that person to be extraordinarily gracious and (highest compliment) “human,” or because it exposed his or her hypocrisy.

The state of the world, either because it is hopeless or because there is an obvious solution to its ills that the government refuses to try.

The state of the economy, either because nothing is affordable anymore or because there are amazing opportunities for smart people who act fast to get rich.

And so on. The possibilities are endless, and so are the recitals.

One etiquette question is how much of this a body can stand. If the body is a spouse, the answer is not much more. Can such a performance be stopped? And if so, when?

After that chorus of “Now!” and “Twenty years ago!” Miss Manners must remind sufferers that they, too, have such topics, only they think of them as opportunities to impart polished wit and wisdom. So the second question has to do with control on the part of the storyteller. When, if ever, must a favorite recital be retired?

The polite way to block a story is with a premature “Oh, that’s such a good story” or, on the part of spouses, “I think we may have told them that” (the tactful part being the “we”). It rarely works, in which case polite people exercise patience and remember their own tendencies.

In doing so, they should also remember to pick up such clues directed at themselves, to vary their audiences, to edit their stories for length and finally to retire them after a good run.

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