Everyone needs a refresher on Magic Words on occasion. So here’s the short course from my beloved Miss Manners:
- “Please”: Precedes any request, however trivial or perfunctory. Unauthorized replacements: “Here’s what I need” or “I need you to . . .”
- “Thank you”: Follows any granted request, however trivial or perfunctory.
(Note to Gentle Reader who argues that he is “not obliged to be profusely grateful for a person’s actions or requests in the normal course of their work”: No, but you are obliged to say “please” and “thank you” to them.)
- “You’re welcome”: Response to “thank you.” Unauthorized replacements: “No problem” and “Thank you.”
(Note to Gentle Reader who argues that “we need to assure customers that there is not anything that cannot be done to assist them”: Yes, there probably is, but you can create that impression by saying “Certainly, I’d be happy to” when the request is made, and then by cheerfully fulfilling it.)
- “No, thank you”: Negative response to offers, typically of refreshments. Unauthorized replacement: “I’m fine.”
- “Yes, please”: Positive response to offers. Unauthorized replacement: “Okay.”
- “Excuse me”: Preface to interrupting or otherwise inconveniencing someone. Unauthorized replacements: “Hey,” “I’m just going to sneak by you here,” “Coming through!” “Let me just steal that” and “Well, excuse you.”
(Note to numerous Gentle Readers who point out that “Excuse me” is often the immediate prelude to grabbing and shoving: Deplorably true, but would you really be happier with the unannounced rude action?)
- “I’m sorry”: Response to complaints about mistakes made by oneself or one’s place of employment. Unauthorized replacements: “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “I can see you’re upset,” “I wasn’t here that day” and “Okay, here’s what you have to do.”
- “That’s quite all right”: Response to an apology. Can be said graciously if the apology is satisfactory or coldly if it is not. Unauthorized replacement: “Well, you ought to be.”
- “Sir, Madam, Ma’am, Miss”: Courtesy titles to people whose names are not known to the speaker. Unauthorized replacement: “You guys.” Response to the argument that such titles makes one “feel old”: Perhaps you are, but whatever your age, you can’t alter it by being rude to people who treat you with dignity.