NOISES YOU Can Make," we'll call this problem.
Miss Manners is referring, of course, to noises you can make inadvertently, and the proper responses that should be made advertently.
There are three categories of such noises:
1. Sympathetic noises. These are noises that evoke sympathy, not noises that express sympathy, such as cluck-cluck, an unharmonious sound that is nevertheless made on purpose, in response to such statements as "My daughter's dropping out of college; she says she's going to major in Life."
One sympathetic noise is the sneeze, and the correct response is, of course, "God Bless you," or any foreign equivalent that might comfort the sneezer and that the sneezes-at feels comfortable pronouncing. Another is the cough, to which the proper response is, "Are you all right?": the problem of answering that is supposed to take the person's mind and throat off his cough.
These responses are made only to adult sneezers or cougher. If a child sneezes one says, "Don't you have a hankerchief?" a nd if a child coughs, one says, "Didn't I tell you not to go out without your knee-warmers?"
2. Acceptable noises. These are noises such as burping or the sounds accompanying choking, to which the response should come from the noisemaker himself, provided that the choking was not complete, in which case he is absolved of all social responsibility except that of having left his papers in order. Society acknowledges that these noises are made from time to time, but does not dignify them with a response. The offender says "Excuse me," and the subject is considered closed.
3. Unacceptable noises, Miss Manners does not plan to mention them, chiefly because they are unmentionable, but you all know who you are. What they are. At any rate, these are noises that are acknowledged by neither the noisemaker nor the noise-recipient, because socially they do not exist. The practice of staring hard at the persons next to you when, for instance, your own stomach has given off a loud rumble, is therefore to be condemned on grounds of etiquette as well as morals.
You will notice that there is a noise left uncategorized, namely the hiccough. Techincally, the hiccough is not socially unacceptable; nevertheless, people should try to ignore it. A person who is hiccoughing has enough troubles, especially if he is foolishly pretending nothing is wrong and trying to prove it by talking soberly in between the hics, without a bunch of crazy people trying to pour water down his throat or clap a paper bag over his head. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: How should a well-bred person respond when an acquaintance "comes out" in the contemporary sense of making public one's sexual tastes? I once received such a revelation in a Christmas card, and for months I was at a loss as to what to write back. I felt obliged to make an intimate revelation in return. What should I have done?
A: Whenever anyone makes a sexual revelation of any nature to Miss Manners, she replies. "How nice for you," Miss Manners sometimes gets in trouble that way, when revelation. It is not, however, as much trouble as one can get into by playing "Can You Top This?"
Q: Is it necessary to buy my fiance an engagement ring in these times?
A: No. Nowadays, it isn't even necessary to marry her. We do everything by the dictates of the heart these days, which accounts for the astounding divorce rate.