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Miss Manners 10/25

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am about to use the cut direct in a social situation on someone who absolutely merits it. Everyone in our social circle agrees that this person, an unmarried lady of equal social status to me, has behaved in an outrageous manner to me and my romantic partner.

We are soon to attend a gathering, which this person will also attend, and I am prepared with my ultimate social weapon of choice. There is no possible way that I could ever agree to return to friendly terms with this rather odious and petulant person.

This leaves but one question that I must ask: In the case where another person has already, albeit clumsily, done the social cut, can one do it back? Or has the situation thus descended into childishness?

GENTLE READER: Well, you can’t do it simultaneously, if that is what you mean. And if this person, whom Miss Manners gathers you do not like, is already cutting you, there will be no opportunity for you to do so.

This is because the cut direct, which is the ultimate weapon under social circumstances – so much less disturbing than fisticuffs – depends on the confusion of the person being cut, who was presumably about to extend a greeting. If your target has no such expectation, it does not work.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a specific way to present a teardrop diamond engagement ring in the box when proposing?

GENTLE READER: This may be one of Miss Manners’ all-time favorite questions, presuming, as it does, that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything.

She is game.

Presumably you are asking whether the pointed or the rounded part should face the lady. Miss Manners chooses the round part. The diamond will look bigger that way. Plus, it is rude to point.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Many recommendations in etiquette books focus on wealthy people in large homes with servants. Our home is more modest, but we still want to express courtesy, and often use courtesy titles in our correspondence.

But it seems almost improper to address a greeting card to a small boy – whether at his birthday, Halloween or simply to say, “Hi, grandson!” – as “Master Jimmy Jones.” It suggests that he is “master” over inferiors. Is “master” still recommended/required as the title for a boy on an envelope?

GENTLE READER: Please allow Miss Manners to deal first with your opening remark.

Etiquette books rarely focus on rich people with servants. The servants they hire know the rules and can, if necessary, subtly teach them to their employers: “Certainly, madam, but I believe the usual way is to serve the ice cream last, not first.”

Now to your question: “Master” was indeed the courtesy title for boys, although it has mostly passed out of use. For that matter, few people use courtesy titles at all, which is unfortunate.

Still, it is time to let “master” go. Its association with slavery has tainted even such unrelated use as “master bedroom” or “housemaster.” Besides, the title of “miss” is applied to little girls from birth, so it hardly seems necessary to distinguish between little boys and big ones.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website missmanners.com.

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