Is there no honorific left?

Miss Manners is dismayed to find more and more people addressing envelopes with the names totally bald of any titles of courtesy: "Archibald Twimbal." Miss Manners always thinks an exclamation point has been left out, and it was intended as a ringing summons: "Archibald Twimbal!"

Under this horrid system, a couple will be "Adelia and Archibald Twimbal," or will include those additions so flattering to ladies, "Archibald Twimbal and Wife" or "and Guest." And that's the formal social style. Should the gentleman or lady be distinguished for heroism or indicted for murder, rather than being so bluntly bidden to attend a wedding, the newspapers would call him or her merely "Twimbal."

And if the couple accomplished one of these things together, each would be called "Twimbal" until the poor reader was totally confused.

Miss Manners must put a stop to this; no one is going to address her as "Manners." Her indignation is, however, tinged with sympathy because she understands the cause of the problem. It is a complex cause. Hardly anyone knows what is correct anymore in the usage of courtesy titles, and hardly anyone knows what a given person's preference is.

Therefore, many figure that leaving off all such designations will eliminate the possibility of offense. Wrong.

Stripping the language of honorifics makes us all sound like children. Surnames-only is a non-gender-specific prep-school custom, as in: "Hey, Twimbal! Can I borrow your notes the week before the exam?"

Here, then, are the traditional rules with Miss Manners' authorized revisions:

A married couple is addressed as "Mr. and Mrs." unless they are known to have other preferences, such as "Dr." or "Ms." In cases where that precludes the one-line formula, two lines are used, as in "Dr. Adelia Smyth-Twimbal/Dr. Archibald Twimbal."

"Mrs." is not used with a lady's first name, but "Miss" and "Ms." are. Therefore, "Ms." is particularly useful for ladies who prefer their own full names after divorce to the traditional use of maiden and married surnames ("Mrs. Smyth Twimbal"), and for married ladies in their professional lives, whether or not they choose to be "Mrs. Archibald Twimbal" socially. Contrary to uninformed public opinion, widowhood makes no difference whatsoever in the style of a lady's name.

When preferences or marital status are not known, individuals are addressed as "Mr." or "Ms." When the names are unknown, salutations are "Dear Madam or Sir" or "Ladies and Gentlemen," not "Dear Ace Laundry" or "Hi there."

Ladies who hold high office are addressed as "Madam" where gentlemen would combine "Mr." with the job title, as in "Madam Secretary" or "Madam Ambassador." The Supreme Court does not know this, and Miss Manners is embarrassed for the justices because they had to admit publicly to an inability to figure out what the female equivalent would be to "Mr. Justice" and therefore had to drop the "Mr." altogether. It should be "Madam Justice," and the sooner they change their style back, the better.

The one remaining stronghold of titles, Miss Manners regrets to say, is people's misuse of their own titles, as when they sign themselves as "Mrs. Archibald (or Mrs. Adelia) Twimbal" or introduce themselves with "I'm Mr. Twimbal." This is incorrect -- one never applies a title of courtesy to oneself. But Miss Manners (oh, dear -- well that's a special case, you see -- can we go on a bit and get to that later, perhaps next year?) understands that people who do this are desperately trying to alert others to what they prefer and to avoid being promiscuously addressed by their first names.

To inform correspondents how one is supposed to be addressed in return, it is correct to put one's own honorific in parentheses with one's signature: "(Ms.) Amantha Idlewild" or "Amantha Idlewild (Mrs. Anton Idlewild)."

The idea of calling oneself by a title out loud nearly chokes Miss Manners but, with some regret, she now authorizes saying, "Tell him Mrs. Idlewild is calling," in those impersonal transactions where the conventional "I'm Amantha Idlewild" would only invite a blithe "Okay, Amantha, I'll tell him." This is a desperate measure, but cheeky people will be unable to call people they have to do business with by their first names if they aren't told what those names are.

Is it wrong for a hostess to place her guests' handbags on the floor? Am I wrong in thinking that this is in poor taste? I asked you about this matter a year ago.

What is your hurry? Miss Manners is still trying to imagine how the hostess got her guests' handbags away from them in the first place. She apologizes for the delay, but she still hasn't been able to come up with any good reason for the hostess' handling such personal possessions. If they had been put in an inappropriate place -- if the lady guests had all dumped their bags on the dining room table and it was needed for dinner -- she need only have requested them to do the moving themselves.

My boyfriend has started sleeping over at my apartment three or four nights a week. The landlord has informed me that the visitor section of the garage where he has been parking is strictly for occasional use, and that I will have to rent a space for his car. I have asked my boyfriend to pay for the space and he agreed, but I am now wondering if I was correct in asking him to pay all or part of the rent.

Guests are not charged by hosts for the space they occupy. Residents usually share costs. Miss Manners will leave it up to you and the gentleman in question to define what he is doing in the apartment.