Oh, stop shouting "Get a horse!"
Nothing against horses, Miss Manners hastens to add. They are a fine mode of transportation, many of them a lot less high-strung and temperamental than automobiles she has known.
It is just that her patience is at an end for the argument that etiquette will advance if technology is halted. For many years now, cellular telephones have been attacked with that premise, despite its lack of success when used against the automobile.
The theory that if you confiscate the toys of rude people, they will be forced to behave themselves may work in grade school -- or may not, actually. But there is no getting around the difficulty that public behavior will only improve when people learn to behave themselves and to play nicely with their toys.
The automobile is an instrument of major trouble, but it seems to be here to stay. Sometimes we do have to take away driving licenses, but mostly we try to get people to drive carefully and politely.
Now the argument is coming up in regard to the use of cellular telephones in airplanes. Since that instrument first appeared, there have been cries to have it banned from one place after another. These are still coming from people who have a lot of backtracking to do when their own telephones pipe up from the depths of their pockets because they forgot to turn them off.
The new fear is that rude airline passengers will drive other passengers crazy. And so they will. They already are, by taking up more than their share of room, banging their seats around, talking loudly and hogging the bathroom.
We don't want them yakking at top volume; we want them quietly occupied. Much of the annoyance of travel comes because people are at loose ends. They may be annoying people, but they are worse when they are unoccupied.
Giving them crayons is not going to work, but they need some occupation or they will start telling complete strangers the stories of their lives. Why they can't sit there quietly and read Trollope novels or doodle mathematical formulae, Miss Manners does not know. But to a great extent, both work and play are now done electronically. Laptops and listening devices are already on board.
True, these lack the capacity to disturb that telephones enjoy. But conversations conducted in a normal tone of voice -- which is enough to be heard on the other end, although few seem to have discovered this -- should be no more offensive than conversations between passengers -- except to frustrated eavesdroppers. On flights that continue after the dinner hour, the polite tone for any conversation is supposed to be low enough to allow others to sleep.
Until passengers realize that these generally understood conventions also apply to cellular telephones -- a concept that is remarkably slow in coming under other circumstances -- Miss Manners is afraid that airlines will have to be the enforcers of etiquette. No one sympathizes more than she with flight attendants who have to reprimand passengers who create disturbances, but they have the duty and power to do so.
Dear Miss Manners:
Is it appropriate to wear a formal traditional wedding gown for the bride's second wedding?
Try and stop her. The white dress has now become the uniform of all brides, young and old, at however many weddings they have.
The strange part is that bridal white, launched by the youthful Queen Victoria, came from white being considered the color of youthful innocence. Today's brides are doing everything they can to subvert that meaning and make their dresses suggestive. Many use Queen Victoria's other fashion trend -- black, for 40 years of mourning for her husband -- for their bridesmaids.
Miss Manners lacks the heart to go around spoiling their fun. But the previously married bride who has taste dresses beautifully for the occasion without donning that costume.
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) 2005, Judith Martin