The Washington Post

Miss Manners: Victims of tragedy need not declare how they feel

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been thinking about the standards of television news after violent tragedies. Some of the questions posed to people being interviewed strike me as both non-newsworthy and rude.

For example, how would Miss Manners respond to a question about how parents reacted when told their young child had been murdered? Would ending the interview with, “I’m sorry, but I thought I was talking to a news reporter, not a daytime talk-show host,” be appropriate?

GENTLE READER: Not really. Besides, you intend this as an insult, but the days are long gone when news and entertainment were separated enough to allow each field to look down on the other.

What astonished Miss Manners, when she was a young, intrepid reporter, was how few people in tragic situations simply decline to be interviewed. She understands that some may need public help (in finding a murderer, for example), and that many are too distressed to distinguish between official and media questioning. But it is pitiful to see people squirming under this attention, apparently without realizing the option of refusing.

Furthermore, the ubiquitous question, “How does this make you feel?” is not only intrusive but pointless. However well or badly they articulate it, the victims of tragedy feel terrible. We know that, and should not prod them to declare it.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is the baby shower given for the baby or the parents of the baby?

GENTLE READER: In view of the fact that at the time a shower is given, it is impossible to separate the mother from the baby, Miss Manners is puzzled about why you feel you need to choose. If you must, she would advise choosing the one who has learned to write letters of thanks.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had custom correspondence cards printed with a motif on the top left and my full name (first, middle and last) on the lower right corner. While I love the look of the card, my choice of style poses a problem: If my name is already printed, should I also sign it?

I’ve been signing just my first name right above the printed name. It feels impersonal not to sign my name, but redundant to write what is already printed for me. How should I continue?

GENTLE READER: What you have is the modern version of what used to be called (despite the crime of turning an adjective into a noun) “informals.” These were smaller, fold-over cards, with the name engraved on the front and room for a short message inside.

The change to larger cards was made when the postal service declared that it would cease to bother with anything that small. But even before then, informals were misunderstood. Not heeding the name, brides often wrote formal letters of thanks on them.

‘’Informal” means informal, although not in the anything-goes sense. (That would be the ubiquitous “casual.”) Informal, in this case, just means that you needn’t follow the forms of a letter. You can omit both the salutation and the closing, writing brief invitations, notes with presents or other short messages. Although it is not strictly necessary, you can add an informal signature — your first name or initial — if you draw a slanted line through your formal name.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS



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