Saturday, July 11, 2020

Etiquette and Agony Aunts

Numerous “Agony Aunts” have given advice to readers of magazines and newspapers throughout the late 19th, the 20th and now into the 21st centuries. Even the popular period drama, “Downton Abbey,” had an Agony Aunt of its own, offering advice to women in Edith’s magazine. Butler for the Dowager Countess, Septimus Spratt, wrote under a female pseudonym. 

Agony Aunt, Anne Singleton, Gives Advice Passed Down from Her Aunts

“Dear Miss Singleton:
In writing a note to accept an invitation, one should say ‘I accept with pleasure.’ Or ‘I have pleasure in accepting.’ The act of accepting is not in the future, but in the present so ‘I shall be delighted to accept’ is wrong. 
Sincerely yours, A. H. L.” 

And so it is technically wrong, and often enough my aunts have called the same to my attention in early youth! But by the almost universal sanction of custom (and smart custom at that), this mode of expression has assumed a correctness which, as my correspondent points out, is not a true one. We project ourselves into the future when we say, “shall be delighted to accept” and imagine ourselves already at the party. We should say, “I shall be delighted to dine, dance, or play cards with you.” But “I accept with pleasure your kind invitation to dine, dance or play cards.” 

 A. H. L. is right, and I entirely agree with her. I was so carried away by the “will” and “shall” illustration, and so accustomed to the rather casual social usage of today, that it never struck me as incorrect. Alas, I am many years away from my aunts’ accurate teaching. Under their tuition, I learned to say “In the street,” never “On the street” one lived on a road, but in a street because the houses formed the street. To this day, I feel guilty when I find myself using any other forms of expression than those they approved. — San Bernardino Sun, 1931

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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