DEAR MISS MANNERS: A board that I am a part of is having a heated discussion on the usage of "Mrs. John Smith." Some participants have not changed their last names and thus are not happy to be called Mrs. John Smith since they are Mrs. Jane Doe.
Others who have taken their husbands' last name do not like Mrs. John Doe, as they feel it obscures their own identity and they did not change their first name to John -- they prefer Mrs. Jane Smith.
The third group says that Mrs. means "wife of," and the only formal way to address a married woman is Mrs. John Smith, although they do concede that if the woman didn't change her name, Mrs. Jane Doe is acceptable.
Does it change things if the woman in question has expressed her preference for Mrs. Jane Smith?
GENTLE READER: Will it change things if Miss Manners pleads how weary she is of this debate and begs all sides to get rid of those emotional analyses that fuel it?
Probably not. The pressure to standardize female life -- not just nomenclature but whether mothers should have jobs, what constitutes good mothering and so on -- is relentless.
We do not now have a standard form of address for wives. The traditional form, Mrs. John Smith, is impractical for professional use, so an even older form, Ms. Jane Doe (from the once-respectable honorific Mistress, from which Mrs. and Miss both derive) was revived. Mrs. Jane Doe is a form that, however common, was never sanctioned by etiquette.
But the mere prospect of change let loose a torrent on ideas of marriage. Ever since, it has been impossible to address an envelope without having to consider everyone's tedious ideas of the symbolism being imposed.
Ladies, these are conventions. Some people are attached to the old one; some see the value of the revived one. Miss Manners appreciates both.
What she fails to understand is why, when there is no agreed-upon standard, people should not be addressed in the way they choose to be addressed.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: With the bread-and-butter plate on the left, it is difficult to avoid getting one's sleeve into the gravy and mashed potatoes. (It's less of a problem for ladies in sleeveless gowns, of course.)
Why on earth were they put there in the first place if diners are expected to hold their knives in their right hands?
GENTLE READER: Eeew. Miss Manners thanks you for that picture of ladies in sleeveless dresses not minding that their forearms are in the mashed potatoes because it will be easier to wash up than to visit the dry cleaner's. Or perhaps because they figure they can lick themselves clean....
Let us stop right there. The problem does not actually exist, because no one should be leaning across the dinner plate to butter the bread. Bread is properly broken into small pieces, with the left hand holding it while the right hand spreads the butter.