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Miss Manners: Outdated courtesy titles

Miss Manners: Outdated courtesy titles

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Dear Miss Manners: Many recommendations in etiquette books focus on wealthy people in large homes with servants. Our home is more modest, but we still want to express courtesy, and often use courtesy titles in our correspondence.

But it seems almost improper to address a greeting card to a small boy, whether at his birthday, Halloween or simply to say, "Hi, grandson!" as "Master Jimmy Jones." It suggests that he is "master" over inferiors. Is "master" still recommended/required as the title for a boy on an envelope?

Gentle Reader: Please allow Miss Manners to deal first with your opening remark.

Etiquette books rarely focus on rich people with servants. The servants they hire know the rules and can, if necessary, subtly teach them to their employers: "Certainly, madam, but I believe the usual way is to serve the ice cream last, not first."

Now to your question: "Master" was indeed the courtesy title for boys, although it has mostly passed out of use. For that matter, few people use courtesy titles at all, which is unfortunate.

Still, it is time to let "master" go. Its association with slavery has tainted even such unrelated use as "master bedroom" or "housemaster." Besides, the title of "miss" is applied to little girls from birth, so it hardly seems necessary to distinguish between little boys and big ones.

Dear Miss Manners: Is there a specific way to present a teardrop diamond engagement ring in the box when proposing?

Gentle Reader: This may be one of Miss Manners' all-time favorite questions, presuming, as it does, that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything.

She is game.

Presumably you are asking whether the pointed or the rounded part should face the lady. Miss Manners chooses the round part. The diamond will look bigger that way. Plus, it is rude to point.

Dear Miss Manners: I dance Argentine tango and other social dances. Usually at the end of a dance, my partner and I say "thank you" to each other; this is standard. But once in a while, I say "thank you," and my partner responds with "you're welcome." What should I say?

Gentle Reader: Traditionally, the gentleman thanks the lady, and it would be gracious of her to say that she enjoyed the dance. But Miss Manners notes that either comment concludes the exchange, unless you want to ask for the pleasure of the next dance.

Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email,; or to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.



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