A Little Polite Fiction Can Spare a Lot of Embarrassment

By Manners, Miss | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 12, 1993 | Go to article overview

A Little Polite Fiction Can Spare a Lot of Embarrassment


Manners, Miss, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


PERHAPS MISS MANNERS ought to define the term polite fiction before she starts trying to revive the concept.

Polite fiction is a sort of useful falsification - one that is aimed inward. It requires that one school oneself not to see, hear or notice certain things.

By not acknowledging that material for possible etiquette disasters actually exists, one renders awkward reactions to them unnecessary. No reaction at all is required when something didn't happen, not even an apology or statement of forgiveness.

The classic example of a fact of life that cannot be commented upon in any edifying way is the unfortunate and involuntary minor physical gesture.

Does Miss Manners make herself clear? One reason she doesn't mention it by name is that she is offering this as an example of the unmentionable. But another is that she has been astonished to discover, from the reports she receives from the offended, that there is apparently no limit to the body's imagination in producing unwelcome gestures.

Besides registering disgust, the complainers want to know what they should say or do (other than running for cover) or what the offender should have done (after what, in the best of worlds, that person should not have done).

The answer is: Nothing. There exists a polite fiction that such a thing never happened.

Believers in polite fiction apparently have trouble hearing things that were not intended for their ears (or, for just as much credit, have learned to eavesdrop while looking steadfastly in the opposite direction). That is why they look so puzzled when they suddenly appear in a room where other people have been talking about them. And they never jump into conversations that strangers are having in public places.

Polite fiction also affects the eyesight, although selectively. Practitioners of it would be able to spot a present they gave only when the recipient was wearing or displaying it. They would never be able to spot its absence and therefore to inquire crossly whether it was actually appreciated.

They can see that other people look well but not any detail that would account for this. Therefore, their compliments are in the nature of, "You look wonderful," not, "You've finally lost that weight," or, "I see you got your nose fixed."

They have a terrible amount of trouble seeing anything wrong. But on the rare occasions when they do, their eyesight is good enough to spot the remedy at the same time.

Finally, polite fiction sometimes gives its adherents trouble with their memories. The polite person who has talked over a romantic prospect with a friend never remembers any critical part of the conversation if the couple marries. Expressions of doubt about prospective children - that one isn't sure if one wants the child or if one has a preference for one gender - should never be made, but no harm is done if everyone observes the polite fiction that this never happened.

The strange thing is that people who suffer from the symptoms of polite fiction - hearing, eyesight and memory problems - tend to be especially beloved for their lapses.

***** Dear Miss Manners: Will you be so kind as to help an old man with the proper use of the word awesome?

My wife and I attended a wedding at which a 10-year-old boy told his grandmother that she was awesome. This lady is an average housewife, and she considered this a great compliment. In this case, I do not find it to be so. If I am wrong, then please put this old codger on the right track.

Gentle Reader: If you are suggesting that the average housewife is not awe-inspiring, you are certainly mistaken to seek Miss Manners' agreement. She can only believe that you are seriously misinformed about what the average housewife manages to accomplish.

Leaving aside that you do not wish to recognize that in modern slang the word awesome means wonderful (oops - not in the sense of being full of wonder; let us say nice - but not when that meant . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

A Little Polite Fiction Can Spare a Lot of Embarrassment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.