Etiquette went to a lot of trouble to invent short code-words and expressions to indicate goodwill in the daily give-and-take of life. The prime examples are "please" and "thank you," which your mother annoyingly called The Magic Words.
Miss Manners will thank you to remember that these are merely grace notes intended to soothe and excuse the jostling of one person's needs against another's. To subject them to psychological and sociological analysis is not just silly but tedious.
Nor should they be put to a truth test. It is their job to create the fiction that people who use them do not wish to disturb others and are grateful for even the smallest favors.
So naturally, during the Age of Querulousness, people started objecting to them as not just unnecessary but degrading. Even now, when society has become as graceless as those people might have wished, some still grumble.
Because the expressions ceased to be universally taught, generations grew up without learning how to use them. As the need to get along with others remains, people of goodwill are stumbling along as best they can, often with awkward or easily misunderstood substitutes.
Here, then, is a glossary of, ah, magic words. Just learn them. Please.
-- Please: Precedes any request, however trivial or perfunctory. Unauthorized replacements: "Here's what I need" or "I need you to..."
-- Thank you: Follows any granted request, however trivial or perfunctory.
(Note to Gentle Reader who argues that he is "not obliged to be profusely grateful for a person's actions or requests in the normal course of their work": No, but you are obliged to say "please" and "thank you" to them.)
-- You're welcome: Response to "thank you." Unauthorized replacements: "No problem" and "Thank YOU."
(Note to Gentle Reader who argues that "we need to assure customers that there is not anything that cannot be done to assist them": Yes, there probably is, but you can create that impression by saying "Certainly, I'd be happy to..." when the request is made, and then by cheerfully fulfilling it.)
-- No, thank you: Negative response to offers, typically of refreshments. Unauthorized replacement: "I'm fine."
-- Yes, please: Positive response to offers. Unauthorized replacement: "OK."
-- Excuse me: Preface to interrupting or otherwise inconveniencing someone. Unauthorized replacements: "Hey," "I'm just going to sneak by you here," "Coming through!" "Let me just steal that" and "Well, excuse YOU."
(Note to numerous Gentle Readers who point out that "Excuse me" is often the immediate prelude to grabbing and shoving: Deplorably true, but would you really be happier with the unannounced rude action?)
-- I'm sorry: Response to complaints about mistakes made by oneself or one's place of employment. Unauthorized replacements: "I'm sorry you feel that way," "I can see you're upset," "I wasn't here that day" and "OK, here's what you have to do..."
-- That's quite all right: Response to an apology. Can be said graciously if the apology is satisfactory or coldly if it is not. Unauthorized replacement: "Well, you ought to be."
-- Sir, Madam, Ma'am, Miss: Courtesy titles to people whose names are not known to the speaker. Unauthorized replacement: "You guys." Response to the argument that such titles makes one "feel old": Perhaps you are, but whatever your age, you can't alter it by being rude to people who treat you with dignity.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Does etiquette or tradition dictate a time when women are supposed to stop wearing engagement rings and opt for the wedding band alone?
GENTLE READER: If etiquette considered itself authorized to go around confiscating married ladies' diamond rings, Miss Manners would have long since retired in luxury on the proceeds. That is, presuming that she hadn't been shot first by the indignant victims or the gentlemen who gave them these very solid symbols of sentiment.
The only case in which etiquette insists that a lady has to surrender her engagement ring is when she breaks her engagement. After marriage, or whatever else follows, she is presumed to have fulfilled the engagement.