Q. I have a 23-year-old cousin and I must admit that if she weren't a relative, I'd ask her out. Besides being very nice, she's extremely pretty and after seeing her the last six summers in a bikini, I can attest to a spectacular figure. I unfortunately see her quite infrequently, mainly at family gatherings.
I saw her last weekend, for the first time since last summer, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't recognize her from across the room at first, which I guess is understandable because, incredibly, she must be about 40 pounds heavier than during the summer. I really felt sorry for her because she was wearing jeans and it was very obvious that her abdomen was bulging way out, and her hips and thighs had gotten very heavy and were layered with fat.
I must say that several of my relatives quietly mentioned to me that wasn't it a shame my cousin had gained so much weight.
I've always thought it bad manners to discuss weight, and even worse manners to tell someone they should go on a diet. However, in this case, I'm not sure. I will be stopping to see my cousin to drop off a book at my convenience, and I just feel I should tactfully bring up the weight subject. I just think it's a shame that someone as young and attractive as she is, suddenly gains so much weight.
What is your opinion on what I should do?
A. Whew. Do you know what Miss Manners thought your problem was going to be after she had read your opening paragraph? There will be a slight pause while she draws her little lace handkerchief across her forehead.
One reason that discussing another person's weight is bad manners is that it is of no practical use. Miss Manners assures you that it is impossible that you and others have noticed your cousin's sudden 40-pound weight gain, but that she herself has not and would say, "Oh, for heaven's sake, I didn't realize that. Thank you for letting me know. Why I'll just run upstairs right now and throw away that box of chocolates I was going to use for a midnight snack. You'll see--I'll be back in that little old bikini in no time."
All you would be telling her is that people are noticing how awful they think she looks. How were you going to do it tactfully--by saying, "Gee, you're really rounding out nicely now?" The only possible approach Miss Manners can suggest is to complain of a weight gain of your own and announce that you are going on a special diet, giving her the opportunity to volunteer to join you on it. You could launch this by offering to take her out to a sparse dinner.
And then Miss Manners would be stuck with the question she thought she was going to get in the first place.
Q. I don't believe this is exactly in your category, but perhaps you can answer it.
When there is a niece or nephew to a person, what are their children and grandchildren to the person? I believe they are great-nieces and great-great nieces. Some friends disagree. They say grand-nieces and grand-grand nieces.
A. You would be surprised what creeps into Miss Manners' category these days. She certainly is.
It is always a pleasure to her to mediate an argument when she can say that everybody is wrong. (It is less of one if readers then write in to say that she was wrong, too.)
In this case, Miss Manners' understanding is that "grand" is the adjective, and "great" the adverb. No, no, wait a minute. Your grandmother is your parent's mother. From then on up, you add "greats" for each generation: great-grandmother, great-great grandmother, and so on. Going down, you get your niece, your grandniece, and then your great-grandniece.