A Letter To Miss Manners

    DEAR MISS MANNERS -- Trying to keep the conversation going at
a family dinner, I decided to look at people's hands. I remarked
that one grandson and also his wife had beautiful hands.
    However when I came to my other grandson's hands, well, they
were huge and I didn't really have much time to think, so I said,
"Your hands would be slimmer if they weren't so fat."
    Well, that obviously was the wrong thing to say, as he is
overweight, although truthfully, I wasn't thinking of that.
    He was furious! My daughter-in-law said, "That's your
grandmother for you," and he said, "We don't have to take that!"
So everyone looked at me, and I felt like crawling under the
    Is it normal for anyone to be that sensitive? I really didn't
intend to hurt his feelings, but I do feel that most people would
have just flubbed it off and said, "Thanks a lot," or something.
    I am 80 years old, and I just feel that he was not
respectful. Or am I wrong? Isn't there such a thing as being
overly sensitive?
    GENTLE READER -- You know who is beginning to get
oversensitive about such claims? Your very own Miss Manners. She
is far too polite to exhibit fury, but she is really exasperated
with the common double whammy you describe:
    First you deliver an obvious, standard insult to an
unsuspecting person, and then, when he is insulted by it, you hit
him again, with the coy insult of being oversensitive.
    It is not that Miss Manners fails to realize that people can
say perfectly stupid things they don't mean. That is why we have
the fine old institution of the apology. As you immediately
realized your error, you should have started groveling: "I can't
believe I said that! That's not what I meant at all! You have
beautiful hands; I've always thought so. Whatever idiotic joke I
thought I was attempting, it came out all wrong. Will you ever
forgive me? I hate myself for being such a fool...."
    Had you done this, and your nephew not finally interrupted
you by muttering, "Oh, that's all right, forget it. I know you
didn't mean it," Miss Manners would now be on your side.
    But you allowed the insult to stand, thus allowing him to
believe that you did mean to insult him. And now you want to act
insulted at him because he was insulted that you insulted him.
    That strikes Miss Manners as undersensitive.

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