Should Your Children Work for You? Miss Manners Says Yes

September 2, 2013

Judith Martin, known to legions of readers as Miss Manners, will be getting a couple of co-writers in her thrice-weekly columns beginning Sept. 15, but they may be hard for even the most dedicated of fans to spot.

For one thing, the new authors will be writing in the voice of “Miss Manners,” Martin’s pen name and persona, not signing their names to their bits of advice. And two, the co-writers are her adult children, Jacobina and Nicholas Martin, who have been hearing the voice of Miss Manners for a really long time, so they’re pretty good at it.

“Miss Manners is a character and a little more formal [than Mom],” says Jacobina, a faculty instructor in sketch-comedy writing at the Second City in Chicago, “but we really did grow up with this.”

Martin’s slightly tongue-in-cheek-but-ever-so-sincere columns are syndicated by Universal Uclick, appearing in more than 200 newspapers across the United States and abroad. A Washington native and Washington Post reporter for more than two decades, she began the column at The Post in 1978. She and her husband, Robert Martin, live in Northwest D.C.

In between the columns, she has beefed up the family business by publishing a dozen books on etiquette and social conundrums (“Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior,” “Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children”), two of them co-authored with her children.

The name of the column will still be “Miss Manners,” and the contributing authors will not be noted.

Making the column a family business is more of a slow growth than a sudden inspiration, although Martin deadpans that, several years ago, she had “a sudden inspiration that I could make the children work for me.”

When Jacobina was getting married, mother and daughter thought the bridal industry needed a refresher, so they teamed up to write “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding” in 2010.

Nicholas, meanwhile, wrote “The DaCapo Opera Manual,” was once editor of Washington Monthly and is now director of operations for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He and his mother have a book on business etiquette coming out later this month, “Miss Manners Minds Your Business.”

Meanwhile, times and manners and mores change, but Martin says the most vexing social problem really hasn’t changed in the 35 years she’s been doing the column.

“The hardest lesson in life that people have to learn,” she says, “is that there are other people in the world and their feelings have to be taken into account.”

Neely Tucker is a staff writer in the Sunday Magazine. He has reported from more than 50 countries around the world and from two dozen of these United States.
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