DEAR MISS MANNERS: When referring to the relationship between two men who have undergone a marriage or commitment ceremony, is it most proper to call them "husbands," "spouses" or "partners"?
It seems as if the word "partner" is popular in referring to people who have a relationship, but have not necessarily formalized it with a ceremony. The greater level of commitment signified by the service seems to necessitate the use of a different term, much as after a traditional marriage ceremony those who were formerly "boyfriend/girlfriend" or "fiances" become "husband/wife."
GENTLE READER: Oh, no, here we go again. Even aside from the fact that everybody keeps referring to the affianced as "fiances," the terminology of couple-hood has been driving Miss Manners crazy for years.
It is true that we seem finally to have settled on "partner" to describe the parties to an unmarried living arrangement, but not without years and years of trying out icky alternatives such as "significant other" and POSSLQ (the government's idea of a catchy way of saying People of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters). "Partner" is not a great choice, as one might have law partners, business partners and dance partners with whom one wouldn't dream of going home, but at least it is pronounceable.
So use "spouse," "husband" or "wife" for both -- but no new words, please.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I make a trip to visit my grandparents once or twice a year, and this year my grandmother had gone through heart surgery. She was well upon the way to recovery in rehab when I arrived.
I was greeted at the house by Berna, my grandparents' housekeeper and an old family friend. It being a dreadfully hot summer, Berna told me that my grandmother had said I was to stay in her (my grandmother's) air-conditioned bedroom while she was away.
Miss Manners, I couldn't accept that offer. It seemed innately disrespectful for me to sleep in my hostess's bed, and I would feel ashamed and somewhat embarrassed to do so. Berna was persistent, and I managed to refuse through a combination of timeworn banter and outright pleading that I be allowed to stay in one of the guestrooms. I also refused Berna's offer to move the fan from her own room to mine.
Was I in the wrong to refuse the hospitality offered? As it turns out, the empty guestroom in which I usually stay already had a fan, so I spent my nights comfortably regardless. Please, what was the proper way to deal with the situation? Was there anything else I could have done?
GENTLE READER: Although Miss Manners is as touched by your reverential reticence as she is sure your grandmother and her housekeeper were, there is something else you could have done: You could have done what you were told.
Your idea was to avoid seeming to supplant your grandmother while she is still alive. Miss Manners' idea goes slightly beyond that to indicate that she is not only alive, but in charge of making arrangements in her own home.