It was a sad day when Miss Manners lost the capacity to be shocked. Such a delicious feeling it used to be - that tingle while one thought, "He doesn't really mean that ," or "She can't have said what I thought she said."
Nowadays, there is no doubt that that is what he meant, and that is what she intended. It certainly does take the fun out of conversation to have everyone talking alike. Miss Manners is thinking of buying a jumbo-family-sized box of detergent and washing out everyone's mouth with soap, so we can all start talking dirty afresh.
It is a common misconception that shocking conversation is that which reveals to the hearer ideas that were previously unknown. Not at all. There are only so many ideas in that area, and everyone over age 8 knows what they are.
But to hear them uttered aloud - that used to be something. Papas who used vile expressions were understood to have been pushed beyond human endurance. Mamas given to such extremes had three-generation families qualing.Young gentlemen and young ladies who exclaimed "Damme" (with the "e" on it; that was important) were taken seriously; if they said worse, they were treated as dangerous madmen, a useful way to be regarded should you require quick action.
Now every babe in arms can reel off the whole vocabulary and nobody pays the slightest attention.
There is nothing more infuriating, when you are furious, than to have people take your severest expressions of displeasure as the merest routine. The fact is that through overuse of three or four words, we no longer have language that adequately describes such situations as being splashed with mud by an empty taxi one has tried in vain to hail.
On such occasions, Miss Manners has been driven to exclaiming, "My goodness, gracious!" or "Upon my word!" These are not nice, as she is the first to acknowledge but desperate times call for desperate measures. Miss Manners Responds
Q: I wonder if you would be kind enough to settle a dispute that is causing much discussion and unkindness in my office. The question is when to begin wearing white shoes. I am, of course, not speaking of baby shoes, tennis shoes or nurses' shoes, which are always appropriate for their respective wearers - but white calf, patent or linen ladies' dress or street shoes or sandals. Some New Englanders have declared it a substantial gaffe to wear them before Memorial Day. Some Georgians have said April 1st is not too soon. My own suggestion for those of us in the Washington area would be choose May 1st, given that we are halfway (more or less) between Boston and Atlanta.
A: Wherever did you get the idea that what Georgians do has any bearing on what is done in Washington? Miss Manners would like nothing better than to tell you to go ahead and wear your white shoes. Miss Manners herself has a favorite dress that only goes with white shoes but cannot be worn in summer because it has long sleeves. Alas, however, Miss Manners also has principles. White shoes may only be worn after Memorial Day and before Labor Day.
Q: I want to issue an invitation to a man who is living with someone, and to indicate that he may bring her. Should I write "and guest" with his name?
A: Certainly, presuming that her name is Guest. The way to write it is:
Ms. Theodosia Guest
Mr. Alexander Dashing
If Guest is not her name, there is no excuse for writing it unless you are sending him two tickets to the circus and don't care whom he takes with him.
Q: What is the proper attire for a young female attorney making her maiden argument before the Mississippi Supreme Court on a May afternoon? I was wondering if either a hat or gloves would be appropriate. Also, if I did wear a hat, at which point should I remove it: before entering the chamber or before beginning the argument?
A: It was at some nice court down South that Bella Abong began the practice of wearing hats, after tiring of being mistaken for a lawyer's secretary. Miss Manners recommends not only a hat and gloves, but opera length pearls and an expression that indicates one will not be messed with. Such assets should certainly not be abandoned before the judgement is reached. After the winning the case, however, you may toss the hat once into the air before solemnly replacing it and exiting in triumph.