Miss Manners by Judith, Nick and Bina Martin

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Frequency: 3x Weekly
Categories: Advice, Lifestyle & Consumer.

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Judith Martin's Miss Manners newspaper column - distributed thrice-weekly and carried in more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad - has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Readers send Miss Manners not only their table and party questions, but those involving the more complicated aspects of life - romance, work, family relationships, child-rearing, death - as well as philosophical and moral dilemmas. 

RULES FOR BEREAVEMENT

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it ever considered appropriate or acceptable practice to leave the voice of a deceased person on a telephone answering machine -- especially for three years after the date of death?

I can accept the fact that this person is no longer living, and I feel the answering machine should be replaced with a new answering machine with the voice of the surviving spouse. The voice of the deceased and the answering machine could be stored somewhere if it is important that this voice message be saved. I am interested in learning your opinion about this.

GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is interested in learning something herself. She would like to know what relation you were to the deceased.

Can you not bear to hear that person's voice because it gives you a moment of false hope and then tears you apart when you remember that you will never again hear that voice live? In that case, you could gently plead with your mother, or whoever it is, to change the message for your sake.

Or is it your object to give etiquette a bad name by using it to poison the harmless little comforts of the bereaved?

If so, you are not alone. Grief (in others) inspires a great many souls to deliver etiquette pronouncements that are as unfounded as they are unrequested and unkind. There is a whole division of them devoted to telling widows who have been using their husbands' full names (as in "Mrs. Humphrey Hillwood") that etiquette now requires them to be "Mrs. Harriet Hillwood." Etiquette requires no such thing.

Nor does it require people to expunge the recorded voices of the dead. Miss Manners can assure you that the strictest rules of Victorian mourning etiquette had nothing whatsoever to say about answering machines.


DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was rather stunned to receive this note written in a holiday card from an old high school chum: "I wish we were closer so I could tease you and know you would take it in the right spirit, but I'll try anyway. I love your art, but the laws of holiday cards say you can't send the same card two years in a row. Wishing you the best always!"

As a professional artist, I enjoy going to the effort (and expense) involved in designing a new holiday card every year, so it is highly unlikely that I am guilty of the suggested offense. Furthermore, I wrote and sent the cards from my home, confident that any leftover previous years' cards were safely stored in a cabinet in my studio across town.

On the chance that I did commit a transgression, however, I immediately sent "chum" a "this year's card" with a polite note telling her that this was the card she was supposed to have received, and that if I did in fact send her the same card two years in a row, she was entitled to tease me mercilessly. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

GENTLE READER: The only point on which you and your chum seem to disagree is whether you actually did sent her the same card this year as last. Miss Manners hasn't the least idea.

Her thoughts on this matter are therefore straying to questions of her own. Why, she wonders, do you both believe that annual novelty is strictly required for what is, however attractive, merely the paper on which to send holiday greetings? And why is your friend trying to pass off chastising you as wishing you the best?


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COPYRIGHT 2002 JUDITH MARTIN

published Monday, January 01, 2001

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In The News

Judith Martin

Born a perfect lady in an imperfect society, Miss Manners is the pioneer mother of today’s civility movement. Now if she could only persuade people to practice civility as much as they talk about it.

However, her tireless efforts to expand the understanding and exercise of etiquette beyond the stereotypical terror of too many pieces of silverware on the dinner table have not escaped official notice. At a 2005 White House ceremony, Judith Martin was awarded the National Humanities Medal in recognition of her role as America’s foremost etiquette columnist and author.

Judith Martin’s Miss Manners newspaper column, distributed thrice-weekly by Universal/Uclick and carried in more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Since 1996, she has been writing an additional Miss Manners column for the Microsoft Network.

Her subject was for years dismissed as an archaic frill to be dispensed with by a world that was much too busy to trifle with such niceties. Yet serving as the language and currency of civility, etiquette reduces those inevitable frictions of everyday life that, unchecked, are increasingly erupting into the outbursts of private and public violence so readily evident in road rage, drop-of-the-hat lawsuits, fractured families and other unwelcome byproducts of a manners-free existence. These unpleasant developments have bred a nationwide call from academics, politicians, writers of all stripes and the public at large for a return to common courtesy.

As readers accept her view of life, they have increasingly sent Miss Manners not only their table and party questions, but those involving the more complicated aspects of life -- romance, work, family relationships, child-rearing, death, as well as philosophical and moral dilemmas. In her columns and her books, Mrs. Martin explores etiquette’s philosophical underpinnings and its role in every facet of our lives.

Mrs. Martin’s writing aims to both instruct and provoke her audience, as numerous commentators have observed. “Judith Martin is The National Bureau of Standards,” states columnist George Will. She’s written “some of the toughest social criticism you are likely to read,” according to critic Charlie Toft. The New York Times declares her work “an impassioned plea for a return to civilized behavior” while Newsday says she is “a philosopher cleverly and charmingly disguised as an etiquette columnist.” The Los Angeles Times deems her “an authentic visionary” and her writing “a kind of study in cultural anthropology, even if she dresses up her field notes with artful parody and self-deprecating humor.” Writer Christopher Buckley calls her “an authentic comic genius”, and TIME Magazine declared, “Martin has helped transform etiquette from the realm of society matrons to a tool for everyday life.”

Mrs. Martin is also a novelist, journalist and frequent lecturer and guest on national television and radio shows. As a reporter, feature writer and critic, she spent 25 years at The Washington Post, where she was one of the original members of the Style and Weekend sections.

In September 2013, Judith was joined by her two perfect children, Nicholas and Jacobina, as co-writers for the Miss Manners column, adding generational wisdom and expanding the reach of insight. Each of Miss Manners’ (Judith Martin’s) children has co-authored an etiquette book with her and now will continue to help her rescue civilization as contributors to the thrice-weekly column, which began in 1978. Mrs. Martin and her then-newlywed daughter, Jacobina, co-authored “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010). Her latest book, “Miss Manners Minds Your Business,” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013) the essential guide for a civilized workplace, was written with her son, Nicholas.

Jacobina Martin teaches improv and sketch comedy at The Second City Training Center in Chicago. Jacobina is a graduate of Harvard College and received a master’s degree from The Actors’ Studio at The New School in New York. An actress, director, and writer, she has worked in professional theater from the age of 12. She lives in Chicago with her husband Ronald Kroll, a special education teacher, and their perfect daughter Greta.

Nicholas Ivor Martin is also the author of The Opera Manual (Scarecrow Press 2013). He is the Director of Operations and Special Initiatives at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and a frequent lecturer. A graduate of Harvard College, Nicholas previously worked as a policy analyst at The White House and as publisher of The Washington Monthly. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Rebecca Toon, who teaches at The Old Town School of Folk Music, and their perfect daughter, August.

Mrs. Martin has also written 11 other Miss Manners books, including “Star-Spangled Manners,” “Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children,” and “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior,” as well as two novels. In addition, her website -- www.missmanners.com -- includes the latest news updates and a link to submit questions.

Born in Washington, D.C., and reared there and in foreign capitals, Mrs. Martin is a graduate of Wellesley College and has been awarded honorary degrees. Judith Martin and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. Their two perfect children are now rearing their own perfect families and continuing the legacy of perfection.

In The News

Meet the Cast of Miss Manners

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