From her vast experience in observing humanity in its ingenious variety, Miss Manners wishes to bring you the following astonishing bulletins concerning the diversity of the peoples of the earth, or even of any one particular neighborhood or block on it:
Some people weigh more than others. There is no absolute agreement about which weight is most appropriate or most pleasing, but individuals generally have particular standards or tastes that enable them to classify people, especially others, as overweight, too skinny or disproportionately shaped.
Some people are shorter than others; the others are taller. Young people tend to grow up, rather than down, as they get older, so that a child one has not seen for a year or two is almost certain to be larger than he or she was. However, there is a variation as to the rate and extent of growth, and children of the same age are not necessarily the same size.
Even in adults, there is no agreed-upon standard of what appearance goes with what exact age, so statements that certain people look younger or older than they actually are are meaningless except as flattery -- and they flatter only people who accept the premise, as not all do, that everyone wishes to be mistaken for being younger.
But everyone can tell the generations apart, so pretending to believe that an old person is very young is meaningless even as flattery. (Miss Manners is not at all opposed to flattery; she just requires it to have some broad amount of plausibility in order to achieve its pleasing effect.)
In addition to size and age, individuals can differ in their appearance because of heritage, accident or choice. There is a variety of usual colors for skin, hair and eyes, and even more of a range in the proportions of the individual features.
Such matters as hair styling and clothing are generally, although not always, representative of one's taste, habits and income, but there are also a great many utilitarian supplements such as dental braces, casts, canes, crutches, walkers or wheelchairs.
Within the same society, people who have a common language and can easily understand one another may nevertheless speak somewhat differently because of regional, educational, occupational or generational differences.
The amount of food people eat varies according to the individual and from meal to meal. Some people have larger appetites and some smaller, and some adhere to diets that require them to eat less of particular foods than they may desire, and perhaps less than others think they should, especially when those others did the cooking.
Preferences in food also differ greatly, as do convictions about which foods are best taken or avoided, from nutritional, philosophic or religious points of view. Drink, also, is subject to a variety of judgments that may be based on anything from content -- whether, for example, it contains alcohol or artificial sweeteners -- to age and bouquet, as well as taste and appetite.
Although it is extremely common for adults to marry and to have children, not all do either or both. And when they do, the timing is based mostly on their individual desires, somewhat on physical or social opportunities, and hardly ever on adherence to a uniform schedule setting out society's decisions about the proper time to perform these activities. As a matter of fact, society cannot agree at any one period, let alone from one generation to the next, about what age is best for marriage or childbearing.
Why -- you may well be asking by now -- is Miss Manners boring you senseless with these observations?
Because you are not only boring everyone else senseless by remarking upon these variations every time you meet an individual, but you are offending the people you presume to rate against your own standard of what they should look like or how they should go about the ordinary business of life.
All this variety is certainly interesting. If there were a standard and everyone met it, how on earth could people tell their ex-spouses from their new ones? If children did not show visible changes, what would encourage their parents to believe that they might ever pass out of the horrible stages they happen to be in?
But since the invention of the mirror, everyone knows what he or she looks like and does not find it helpful or enjoyable to have oddities or deficiencies -- according to someone else's standards and tastes -- pointed out.
And every adult assumes the right of making his or her own decisions about eating, drinking, mating and reproducing, and finds being monitored and instructed -- again according to someone else's preferences -- distasteful.
So Miss Manners is asking you to enjoy the basic variations of humanity in silence. Should you happen to notice that another person is extremely tall or overweight, eats too much or declines convivial drinks, has red hair or goes about in a wheelchair, ought to get married or ought not to be pregnant -- see if you can refrain from bringing these astonishing observations to that person's attention. Q What is the proper salutation for a former congressman or judge who has been convicted of accepting bribes and is now serving his country in a federal penitentiary?
I know that former public officials are normally addressed as Hon. John Doe, but does the conviction for acts of moral turpitude serve to revoke the "Honorable"?
Where I come from, this is not a theoretical question.
A. At the rate things are going, we may soon need a set of regulations spelling out exactly which of the many interesting forms of moral turpitude that our public servants seem to enjoy indulging in should result in revoking their privilege of being addressed as "Honorable."
Miss Manners will be sorry when that happens. The ironic humor in so addressing an inmate of a federal penitentiary fills her with such glee that she is tempted to find out who your former state officials are, for the sheer pleasure of writing out those envelopes.