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

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Not only am I, like so many others, having to grapple with the threat of COVID-19 contamination, but also with the increasingly vitriolic political situation that has divided my friends and family. Therefore, I’ve put signs over my front door that read “MASKS MUST BE WORN,” and “NO POLITICS,” as well as similar placards throughout the house, particularly near the dinner table.

Some have already said that this approach is laughable and makes me a rude host, even mentioning infringement of free speech.

Normally, I might agree, but I’m wondering if these temporary regulations might be allowed during trying times.

GENTLE READER: Free speech has its limits, even overlooking the fact that restricting it applies to the government, not citizen hosts.

Your real problem is that neither the Constitution nor etiquette endows hosts with legislative, executive or judicial powers. Banning behavior that will endanger or offend yourself or other guests must be done politely, which means in individual conversations before the day of the event. Miss Manners realizes this may not be taken well by potential guests, but it has the advantage of setting the ground rules before anyone sets foot in the door.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it correct to use the verb "invite" as a substitute for the noun "invitation"? Example: "I have received an invite.”

GENTLE READER: Certain not.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been in a tiff with my sister-in-law for about a year, when her ill-considered words rocked my marriage. We are still healing, and my hubby continues seeing a therapist. Good thing they live on the other side of the country.

But that is not the issue, just the background. I just learned that my sister-in-law’s elderly mom looked so bad she was sent directly to the hospital. Coughing, feverish, low energy, no appetite, food has no taste ...

The COVID test came back negative. What they learned was so much worse. Her mother is dying of stage 4 cancer and has only a short time to live. Having cared for my father during his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma chemotherapy before he passed, I really have sympathy for my sister-in-law's situation.

Is it wrong to express condolence or sympathy before someone dies? How can I acknowledge her pain at watching a parent die and continue to withhold an olive branch? I am not ready to forgive her yet.

GENTLE READER: The military have a term for what you are proposing. They call it a cease-fire: Everyone stops shooting, which the troops know is not at all the same thing as turning in your weapons and going home.

The etiquette equivalent is to refrain from references to past indiscretions while you are dealing with your sister-in-law’s anticipated loss. You cannot yet offer condolences -- that would be, at best, indelicate -- but you can offer sympathy and, if possible at a distance, what the Army (you have put Miss Manners in a military frame of mind) would call logistical support.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)