Dear Miss Manners:

I feel somewhat awkward in questioning a member of the Etiquette Mavens' High Council, but, as I am confident that you, of all people, will be most understanding, I must inquire about your use of a period in the word "Ms."

I seem to recall that when the word was coined, it was touted as not being an abbreviation of anything, but a new word in itself, indicating a woman's freedom from marital identification -- neither Miss nor Mrs. Because the word was not an abbreviation, no period was required. The test would be to name the longer form of the word abbreviated by "Ms." I think you will find that there is none. I am less certain about a plural -- the Ms's? -- but I will leave that up to you!

There is a reason that people are wary of questioning a member of the Etiquette Mavens' High Council, charming as we are, and charmingly as you have done so. We have long memories.

Yours is not as long as you think. You were not around when "Ms." was coined, as we can date it back to the 17th century. The full word was "mistress," and it was respectable in those days. "Mrs." and "Ms." are both abbreviations of "mistress" and thus take periods; "Miss," another derivative of the word, squeaks by without one as a sort of nickname. Because of unfortunate subsequent connotations, we do not use "mistresses" for the plural, but rather "Mesdames" or "The Misses" with the surname.

Dear Miss Manners:

I recently became legally joined to my same-sex partner of many years. After the service, I commenced referring to her as my wife. I occasionally receive comments on how it is inappropriate to refer to her as such. Is there another word I should be using that will act as a stand-in for the rather cumbersome "woman with whom I am legally united"?

Spouse. And please don't ask Miss Manners for the plural.

Dear Miss Manners:

I am 9 years old and I have a friend that is very forward. My friend always asks to sleep over, go places with me and my family, have snacks or eat over without being offered first. When I tell her this is not the time to do this, she pushes me over and over to ask my mom anyway.

This gets on my nerves. We have a good friendship other than this problem. What would be the proper way to get this problem to stop without hurting her feelings?

Nine is not too young to learn to say no, and as your mother is presumably even older, she can help you.

When someone refuses to take no for an answer, that does not oblige you to come up with an answer that she will like better. However many times your friend asks the same question, you should give the same answer: "No, I'm sorry, this is not a good time." And the answer to "Why not?" is also "Because this isn't a good time."

You are supposed to keep this up until the other person's nerves, or rather her nerve, goes. But if you feel yours fraying, Miss Manners suggests saying, "Let's go ask my mother" so that lady can take over delivering the same statement.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

(c) 2004, Judith Martin