JUST BECAUSE Miss Manners isn't Ms. Manners, don't think she is going to lend her good name (Manners) to all you silly people who carry on about what a dreadful innovation you think the title of "Ms." is. It happens to be a very clever, useful invention, and as for all that whining about its not being pronounceable - well, "Mrs." doesn't have any vowels in it, either.
It isn't as though anybody had really gotten the hang of the old system. Miss Manners was constantly being appalled by the way women were being misaddressed, all these years, with the traditional titles of Miss and Mrs. The form "Mrs. Lavinia Footloose" does not properly fit anyone - not a widow, not a divorcee, not a businesswoman.
The correct sequence is:
From birth, Daffodil Louise Perfect is styled "Miss," although her brother, Cutlip, is called "Master," rather than "Mr.," until he is big enough to knock down anyone who tries it. However, the older sister of Miss Daffodil Louise Perfect is not addressed as Miss Brentwood Viola Perfect, but, because she is the ranking daughter, only as Miss Perfect.
When Daffodil married Jonathan Rhinehart Awful III, (after breaking the engagement several times and driving everyone crazy, especially the lady at the department store bridal registry), she became Mrs. Jonathan Rhinehart Awful III. When she then opened a yarn and Pakistani leather-goods boutique, there was no right way at all that she could be addressed in business correspondence. "Mrs. Daffodil Awful" would have been incorrect, and "Mrs. Jonathan Awful" would have been inappropriate.
After Daffodil and Jonathan were divorced, she correctly combined her maiden surname with her ex-husband's, thus becoming Mrs. Perfect Awful. The strict old rule was that a divorced woman could continue to use her husband's full name if she were the innocent party in the divorce, but this no longer applies, as nobody is innocent anymore.
Had Daffodil murdered Jonathan instead, which she considered in order to simplify the property settlement, she would have remained Mrs. Jonathan Rhinehart Awful III. The name of an undivorced woman is the same whether her husband is dead or alive, however much the friends of broken-hearted old widows enjoy taunting them by insisting that they cannot continue to use the same names.
Now - do you feel a little more kindly inclined toward the use of "Ms."? Daffodil could correctly be styled Ms. from birth to death without anyone's having to ask her where Jonathan as (if you find out, several tradesmen would like to know) before knowing the correct form. Does "Ms." still seem so odd and difficult?
One note of caution: Women who prefer the old forms should not be bullied into giving them up. In this period of transition, it is courteous to address people in the fashion with which they feel comfortable. Miss Manners herself is still struggling, valiantly and democratically, to make the adjustment from being called Lady Manners, in the old country. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: If I get an uncanceled stamp on a letter that comes to me in the mail, is it ethical to pick it off and use it again?
A: No, but when you do, watch out for the Frank Lloyd Wright stamps. The lines in the Guggenheim Museum behind his head make it difficult to tell if the stamp was canceled or not.
Q: I like to have a club sandwich for lunch, but my mouth isn't big enough to get all the layers in one bite. Should I try to eat it with a knife and fork?
A: The club sandwich is typical of the club decision, usually thought of by a committee that tries to fit in everyone and ends up making a mess. You must belong to the kind of club that makes its members feel at fault - and probably in danger of being dropped - when anything goes wrong, without thinking of blaming the club. You will never manage to pack all that stuff onto a fork. Save the fork for eating whatever has dropped out of the sandwich when it is eaten, as a civilized sandwich is intended to be eaten with the hands.
Q: Some neighbors dropped in while we were watching our favorite television program. I asked them to join us, but they kept talking though it. Who was being rude here - them for talking, or us for keeping the set on?
A: People have precedence over mechanical contrivances, and therefore you should have turned off the set. However, those who drop in on others unannounced must take what they find, and it can be a lot worse than television. What you have here, therefore, is a rudeness draw.
Q: My prospective mother-in-law has asked me to call her "Mother," but I don't want to. I have my own mother. Can I suggest that I call her by her first name instead?
A: The time of entering a new family is an excellent one for making it clear that one does not consider one's new relatives to be in the same class with one's original relatives. With any luck, this could set the tone for a life-time of mutual put-downs.
Q: My grandfather used to say that a gentleman never wore a watch with evening clothes. Is that true - or was it ever? I certainly see men looking at their watches at formal occasions, such as charity balls.
A: The formal ball, these days, certainly inspires watch-watching. Your grandfather, however, would have understood that there is watch-watching and watch-watching. He told you - you were only half listening, weren't you? - that a gentleman never wore a wristwatch with evening clothes. The act of looking at a wristwatch denotes businesslike impatience, unsuitable for social functions. The act of looking at a pocket watch, however, is a graceful gesture denoting respect for the night as a time in which sooner or later every civilized person ends his revels and goes to bed. It is an act of which your grandfather would have approved.
Q: My husband has taken to using his pocket calculator for adding up the bills in restaurants. I don't mind his quietly checking the waiter's figures - he has caught mistakes many times, and never in our favor, either - but this seems a bit much. He says he does it because his arithmetic is bad, and this is the quickest, most accurate way of doing it. I hate the little clicking noises it makes. People always turn around and look.
A: Isn't that preferable to their turning around to hear him say, "Four and carry the two, plus seven, is 14"?