A radio program of Miss Manners's acquaintance has been asked why the announcer begins the broadcast by saying "Good morning," when the news that follows is so often bad. Presumably, it would be more fitting to address those who have set their radio alarms for the early morning news by shouting: "Wake up! A lot of people are dead!"
A telephone operator who was handling a call for Miss Manners asked timidly, "Would you mind if I wished you a nice day?" Clearly, past experience had taught her that she was in danger of being verbally abused by anyone on whom she perpetrated such a wish without express permission.
A letter writer informs Miss Manners that he has looked up "dear" in the dictionary and finds that it does not accurately describe the way he feels about those with whom he has business correspondence. He leaves her to speculate about what adjective he would use to get these people's attention by letting them know right away how he truly feels about them.
Miss Manners wishes people would have the goodness to refrain from removing small politenesses from the pleasant habit of daily greetings, and to refrain from discouraging others from the habit of using them. Or, as she might say if she shared their own desire for direct talk that conveys emotions in keeping with the sentiment expressed: "Yo! Shut up!"
Miss Manners does not talk that way. She is not even tempted to do so. In no household of which she was ever a part was the phrase "shut up" ever permitted, other than in regard to what one had to do to the house before leaving for the summer holiday.
The untouched-up response to this statement is undoubtedly, "Oh, good for you."
Miss Manners would therefore like to explain why her standard is, indeed, good for her and for everyone else. It is her contention that blunt greetings, not pleasant ones, are dishonest and misleading.
To understand her argument, you must have a modicum of sophistication. (How's that for plain speaking?) You must realize that language conveys more than the literal meaning of each word.
To begin with, "Good morning" is not an elliptical version of "It is a good morning," but of "I wish you a good morning." It does not refer specifically to weather or news, but leaves open the possibility of any sort of good fortune.
So, of course, does the current and much attacked remark (used in parting, rather than greeting): "Have a nice day." Those who snarl back "I don't want to have a nice day" are being illogical, as the vague idea of niceness is used to refer to whatever it is that they do wish.
"Dear" has dictionary definitions other than "cherished," including "costly," "heartfelt" and "severe," and is used in the expression of dismay "Oh, dear." In the salutations of letters, it conveys respect rather than affection.
Here comes the charge that the good wishes and respect are what make these phrases dishonest.
Not necessarily. Miss Manners doesn't want to startle the cynics unnecessarily (a dishonest statement if ever there was one), but there really are people in the world who sincerely wish everyone else well and approach all their fellow beings with respect unless they, as individuals, have proved themselves unworthy.
But even this is over-interpretation of the mere habits of politeness. What these phrases really convey is the negative information that the person who pronounces them is not looking for a fight.
Wishing someone well is the normal conventional posture; those who have ill wishes to convey must specifically articulate them. Miss Manners only wishes they would confine themselves to confronting one another and leave the rest of us unchallenged in our hopes of having some nice days.
Q: We have some relatives who stop by our house every Friday night between 7 and 10 and stay for the weekend. Should our porch light be on before they arrive, or can we wait until we hear them drive up before turning it on?
A: Do you want them to find the house? Miss Manners is only asking. In that case, it would make sense to turn on the lights before they arrive.
You might as well do that, anyway. It is difficult to conceal a whole house, even in darkness, and it will be no less trouble to you if your relatives miss and drive into a tree than if they can find their way.
Q: A friend is giving a bridal shower at which games are to be played. There will be prizes for the winners. But it seems that where my friend came from, it is the practice for the winners not to keep their prizes but to be asked to give them all to the bride.
Since every guest brings a gift for the bride, it seems that guests ought to be able to take home whatever little gifts they win at the games. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems a waste of time even to play.
A: Where your friend comes from, it is no doubt the custom for birthday children to grab prizes back from their little guests.
Miss Manners would not have thought that these people would grow up to have bridal showers. It is strange enough to imagine how they might find guests still willing to be treated so selfishly, let alone people to marry.