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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin


DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have a person who was in Congress from 1981 to 1993 and has been out of office since then, who has decided to run for Congress this year in hopes of returning.

1. As voters, if we get the opportunity to speak with him, is the proper way to address him "Congressman Lastname" or "Mr. Lastname"?

2. In his campaign ads, is it proper for the ad narrator to say, for example, that "Congressman Firstname Lastname is a good man," or should he by the rules of etiquette be required say, "FirstName LastName is a good man"?

3. Is it proper for various pages on his campaign's Web site to refer to him as "Congressman FirstName LastName"?

I believe that the rules of etiquette when applied to former presidents ?allow a person to address him (someday her?) as "President Lastname," and may allow an ad narrator to refer to him as "President Firstname Lastname," but I have the impression that the rules for a former congressperson, or anyone who hasn't been president, may be different. I also wonder if the passage of 13 years since the person in question ?has been in office alters the answer in any way.

GENTLE READER: You're not running against him, are you? Because then Miss Manners would be extra careful about reminding you to address him respectfully, even as you attempt to make it clear that he is wrong on every possible issue.

But, as you have noticed, that is not easy. The official protocol is clear but is rarely observed. This may be because nobody except Miss Manners remembers it, or because people feel it is not respectful enough, or because they feel it is too respectful.

For starters, "Congressman" is not a title; if it were, it would have to include senators, who are also members of the U.S. Congress. The correct title is "Representative of" with the state. But although these officials should be addressed in writing as "The Honorable," a title that stays with them through life regardless of their behavior, the direct address should be simply Mr. or Ms. with the surname.

But, as you know, it isn't. The terms "Congressman" and "Congresswoman" sprang up to save our officials from the political sin of modesty. And since former senators are forever styled senator, the other members of Congress may as well be. Only holders of unique titles, such as President of the United States, are supposed to surrender them on leaving office. Former presidents Truman and Eisenhower gracefully assumed the last multiple titles they had held, Senator and General respectively. But now we have a number of people styled "President." Aside from the violation of American protocol, Miss Manners would have thought that the people in question would feel confident enough that everyone already knew who they were, and they would not have to trumpet it.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the proper response to a party guest who asks the host "Hey, where's so-and-so (a friend of the guest who was not invited)?"

GENTLE READER: "He's not here. Would you like me to freshen your drink?"