Order your copy of Minding Miss Manners now.

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

Don’t Ask Rude People To Explain -- They Just Might

DEAR MISS MANNERS: At what rank should we discontinue addressing people with honorifics after they are no longer in the role? Presidents seemingly remain presidents forever. Diplomats are ambassadors for life. Congress people, ditto. Generals and admirals seem to get the same treatment. So should we call our acquaintance John Smith “lieutenant” or “sergeant”?

GENTLE READER: Well, the rule is that unique titles, such as president of the United States, are held by only one person at the same time. Nobody follows this rule, least of all former presidents, who always address one another by that title.

Miss Manners would have thought that if one has been president, everyone knows it, and it is charmingly modest to revert to a nonexclusive title -- as, for example, did Gen. Washington. (Military officers retain their titles.)

But in these political, acrimonious times, she supposes that it would seem like a slur not to do so.