Miss Manners: Why do people give an excuse then say it’s not an excuse?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Several people of my acquaintance are in the habit of offering a rationale for poor behavior, quickly followed by, “But that’s not an excuse.” For example: “I’m sorry I lost my temper and dumped that bowl of egg salad on your head. Work has just been so stressful lately, and I’m not getting much sleep. But that’s not an excuse!”

Well, if it’s not an excuse, what is it? How should one respond to what seems like an attempt to have it both ways?

GENTLE READER: It is called extenuating circumstances. Or throwing oneself on the mercy of the court.

But as you point out, it is not an excuse, and you need not accept it as one. Miss Manners would permit you to say sadly, “No, I’m afraid you are right -- it is not an excuse.”

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: In my youth, I was taught how to dance. I was also taught that your escort was always your partner for the first and last dances. It signaled to others that this is the person with whom you arrived, and with whom you are leaving.

I love dancing. My husband does not. It was all I could do to get him to move in circles for one song at my nieces’ weddings. The dilemma is that we will soon be attending a concert by a band that encourages dancing in the aisles during shows. I would be more than happy to dance alone or with any partner, but I also want to prevent insult to my husband.

Would I be wrong to follow my love of dance and leave my husband in his seat for most of the concert?


GENTLE READER: Your husband has a choice: Dance, or look up occasionally and smile proudly at how delightfully you dance. Miss Manners would consider it an insult to your marriage to believe that he would begrudge you some innocent enjoyment that he does not care to share.

• • •

DEAR MISS MANNERS: As I’ve gotten older, I attend more “celebrations of life” and “family remembrances.” I can usually navigate these gatherings with a minimal number of etiquette faux pas. However, I am at a loss for how to respond to the following comment: “He/She is better off now.”

I have so many responses whirling around in my mind when I hear this, but none seem appropriate. Smiling and nodding does not seem right, either. I do not believe in an afterlife, for whatever that’s worth.

GENTLE READER: “Well, we are not better off. I feel the loss very much.”

This is not to say that Miss Manners believes in getting into theological debates at funerals, or that she fails to acknowledge that people often make remarks that may be cruel or stupid when they believe that they are offering comfort. She offers this reply in the hope that offenders will understand how smug it is to declare that anyone is better off dead.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to