DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it in bad taste to use the word "death" in condolence notes?
I seem to have reached the stage of life in which the occasion to write such notes arises with increasing frequency, and I am uncomfortable with euphemisms like "passed on," or "passing," and even with "loss," which always makes me think of Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest," who tells Jack Worthing that having lost both his parents looks like carelessness.
A death is a terrible loss. Is it wrong to name it when expressing sympathy? Many other people seem to prefer the euphemisms. Will I add to the pain of the bereaved if I write that I am sorry about the death of a loved one?
GENTLE READER: As fond as Miss Manners is of Lady Bracknell, the dear lady was not known for her tact. Propriety, yes, but that is something else. Lady Bracknell did not knock herself out to ingratiate herself with orphans.
It is true that the word "death" has been considered too harsh for the newly bereaved, although the stalwart mourners of the past did not flinch from the reality of death. One might also imagine that modern society, which freely uses death in its graphic forms of popular entertainment, would also be inured to the word.
Nevertheless, it is easily avoided. And although euphemisms should not be universally scorned, as delicacy often spares feelings, you need not resort to them.
Condolence letters are supposed to focus on reminiscing about the deceased (would you rather Miss Manners say "of the corpse"?) and sympathizing with the survivors. It is unnecessary to point out that the person has died, because the recipient of the letter already knows.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My neighbor is selling his suite, and has asked my boyfriend (who lives with me) to move his 15-year-old car around the corner because my neighbor thinks it's an "eyesore" and "belongs on a reservation." (The car is in good driving condition, it is just rusty on one side.) My neighbor doesn't want potential buyers to see the car parked out front, along with the rest of the residents' vehicles.
We live in an urban area of the city, with a wide variety of income levels in the neighborhood, and in fact, on our own street. This is certainly not the most ritzy area of town; if everyone else can accept the economic reality of where we live, shouldn't my neighbor cool his heels? Am I wrong to feel totally offended by his request?
GENTLE READER: Yes; you should be amused. Either it is shameful to have an old car, in which case you would feel offended at his drawing attention to your boyfriend's, or it is ludicrous to think so.
Miss Manners is amazed at the naivete of your neighbor, who is apparently unaware that the really rich often drive cars such as yours. She advises agreeing to his request, but first asking him if he is sure that this will mean giving prospective buyers the impression that the residents are too poor to afford servants.