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Miss Manners: Friends keep correcting my ‘unacceptable’ choice of words

3 min

Dear Miss Manners: I’m a politically liberal person with like-minded friends. Occasionally, in the course of a conversation, a friend advises me that my use of a word or phrase is unacceptable.

I’ve read that terms I should no longer use include previously neutral terms such as “depressing,” “battle,” “minefield,” “the poor,” “the disabled” and also “field,” as in academic fieldwork. (I’m not referring to racial or ethnic slurs, which were never neutral.)

I don’t mind if other people observe such rules, but I don’t appreciate being told that I shouldn’t have used a term that the listener found objectionable, especially when there is no one present who would have taken my remark personally.

What would be a polite response when a friend criticizes my choice of words?

To think that one would long for the days when rude people knew they were being rude — instead of patting themselves on the back for their righteousness.

As Miss Manners cannot condone returning one rudeness with another, she advises you to nod neutrally and finish your train of thought. Although this may seem insufficient, she assures you that it is the worst punishment of all: It denies your critics what they most want, which is to score a point against you.

Dear Miss Manners: My boyfriend has a mustache and a goatee. Lately, I am averse to the odor of foods that he has eaten, which linger in his facial hair, and I find it hard to engage in kissing.

I have mentioned this to him, but he only becomes offended and takes no steps to remedy the problem. What do you make of this?

That your boyfriend has not thought through the consequences.

Dear Miss Manners: After a houseguest departed, I discovered multiple places where they had “helped” but ultimately made more work for me. For example, when taking out my recycling, I found a layer of food scraps that I had to painstakingly remove.

Is there a polite way of bringing up such things before or during their next visit? Although I can be vigilant and collect dishes and food scraps myself, that still leaves the possibility of other ways, known and unknown, in which they are likely to try to help.

This isn’t the first guest who has done this. I am frustrated, and I find myself designing a curriculum for a class for my guests. But I suspect that will not come off well.

As even roommates, spouses and children (Miss Manners makes no claim about whether these are distinct groups) may occasionally fail to follow house rules, temporary houseguests must be allowed more latitude.

Holding a class would be insulting, not to mention poorly attended, but it is also unnecessary. A proper guest asks before doing anything significant. A proper host may remind them of this by offering, “Let me know if you need anything or are not sure where something goes,” and by taking out of their hands things that should not be done — with the assurance of: “Please let me do this. You are my guest.”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

© 2023 Judith Martin