DEAR MISS MANNERS: When did “RSVP” cease to mean “Please respond, yes or no” and come to mean “Respond only if your answer is yes”? I receive a lot of e-vites and such, and they all seem to imply this new interpretation of the old phrase.
It feels a little rude not to be offered a gracious way to opt out that doesn’t involve not responding at all.
GENTLE READER: Can we please do away with that form? Apparently nobody understands it -- did everyone fail high school French? -- and it is now annoyingly used as a noun.
It means “please respond.”
Yes, as those of you who did ace high school French will point out, the phrase is actually “if you please,” but the “if” is not supposed to be taken literally. It is safe to presume that few people, even those who give large parties, can prepare adequately when they do not know how many guests they will have.
Miss Manners would think it obvious that it is rude to ignore an invitation. But most people only seem to find that out when they are the hosts.
So let’s put it in plain English: “Please respond.” The more formal version is “The favor of a reply is requested.” Notice that Miss Manners does not use the British spelling, “favour” -- why all the foreign phrases? -- nor does she condone “Regrets only.” It is not for the host to presume that a prospective guest would regret skipping the party.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had a “friend”/co-worker stab me in the back and betray my trust. She has no clue that I know, and she keeps asking/pushing me to go to lunch with her.
How do I politely decline so as not to cause friction? I don’t trust her and prefer not to associate with her, but unfortunately I see her regularly.
GENTLE READER: Probably any other adviser would tell you to have it out with this person, explaining that you were hurt by her betrayal.
Not Miss Manners.
At best you would get an apology, which would not necessarily ensure its not happening again. But you might instead get a denial, a justification or a counter-accusation. If she really regretted what she did, she would have found a way to make that clear.
You have to work with this person. You have discovered that she is not a friend. So treat her only as a co-worker. That means that politeness is required, but not warmth -- nor lunch, nor other opportunities to talk it out. “Sorry, I’m busy” is all that is needed.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I want to thank the U.S. Postal Service for delivering a card addressed to me by my mother, who was severely visually impaired. Her handwriting was terrible and this letter was handled with TLC to get it to me!
This was the last piece of mail I received from Mother before she died, and I am very grateful to those who recognized the love and effort that she put into sending it.
GENTLE READER: So do it -- thank your local post office, and perhaps write a letter to the Postmaster General. Miss Manners suspects that they do not get a lot of gratitude from the public.