DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have several standard flatware settings (place knife, fork, spoon and salad fork) in a pattern I like. Lately, I've been thinking I might acquire dinner knives and forks in the same pattern. Frankly, I regret not buying the larger pieces in lieu of the others to begin with.
How do I now "justify" the place pieces? As luncheon knives and forks? I'm not so much concerned with what is correct (though correctness is nice) as with the logic of it all. Those place pieces are bugging me! I'm filling out my service (cream soup spoons, shrimp forks, tea and coffee things, etc., etc.) with vintage pieces, if that makes a difference.
GENTLE READER: Would you mind terribly if Miss Manners justifies this in terms of correctness? First, she can't help herself, and second, the police have enough trouble with the incorrect use of knives as it is.
Before the late-Victorian explosion of specialized silverware, a proper place setting consisted of two sets of forks and knives, one big and one smaller. You heard right -- there were no salad forks, fish knives or other such items that could be used as social weapons against those who didn't know which was which. The smaller set was used for breakfast and luncheon, and at dinner, the fish course was eaten with two small forks and the meat course with the large knife and fork.
Miss Manners realizes that this defeats your plan to indulge in other specialized flatware, an amusement she happens to share. So she will relieve you by suggesting how you could use them as well as both sets of forks and knives together:
Serve an entree, in the proper sense that this meant before restaurants started misusing it to identify the main course. This would be something such as sweetbreads or potted pigeon served after the soup and before the main course. Your guests may look a bit peaked, but your table will look stunning.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Would you please write about what constitutes a proper engagement? A young person recently told me that an engagement should be a year at least. She was referring to a couple we both know who are in their thirties!
In my youth, I seem to recall that an engagement of that length or longer might be proper if the couple was extremely young, still in school, completing military service, or not financially independent. This couple meets none of these and is even living together already. What am I missing? Has the nature of engagement changed?
GENTLE READER: Of course it has. As in the case you cite, affianced couples are apt to be sharing living quarters already. Engagements used to be shorter because the pair felt it was more urgent to be alone together than to take time to plan an extravaganza for others to see. But if they were really short, people would assume that the couple "had to get married," an expression Miss Manners doubts anyone even understands these days.
A proper engagement is one that lasts from the mutual decision to marry until the marriage occurs. How many hours or years that may be is something she is happy to leave up to the couples in question.