Originally created 08/17/97

The Proper Thing: Secretary too casual with name



Dear Carson: My brother and I have retained a lawyer in another state to transact business in our behalf. We have known him for a number of years and have always been on a first-name basis. His young secretary has two annoying habits: not introducing herself and calling me by my first name.

In addition to the fact that we have never met and I am in my 60s, I am the client and she is the secretary.

Can you suggest a tactful way for me to handle this without sounding like a pompous grouch? - Paying Client

Dear Client: The secretary is out of line.

First of all, you are proper to introduce yourself by your first and last names. The height of pomposity is to identify yourself as "Mr. X" or "Mrs. X."

Just because her boss calls you by your first name is no reason for her to take this liberty. She may be an upstart, or perhaps she has no clue about proper business protocol.

Speak to her boss or tell her politely that you prefer she call you "Mrs. X." Or clip and highlight this column and send it to her. If she is bright enough to be a legal secretary, she is bright enough to see how this applies to her.

Dear Carson: Oftentimes I see a married woman referred to as "the former," i.e. "John Smith is married to the former Mary Jones."

"The former" sounds as if she is no longer living. What do you think? - Confused

Dear Confused: Although the designation "the former" is often used in obituaries and introductory explanations, I agree that there must be a better way to refer to a married woman.

To use your example, why not just say "nee Mary Jones" or "Mary Todd Jones"? You indicate her maiden name and also make it clear that she remains among the living.

Dear Carson: I have noticed a close family member using the edge of her fork to cut up food. It seems to me that this might be poor etiquette. What do you think? - Wondering

Dear Wondering: It is perfectly correct to cut food that is semi-hard, using the edge of the tines of one's fork. If the food is so hard that it might come careening off the plate, opt for your knife.

Have a question on etiquette? You can ask Carson Elliott by calling INFOLINE at 442-4444. Press 4422 and leave your message. You can write to Ask Carson, The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, Ga. 30913-1928. Send E-mail to Carson at AskCarson@poseidon.net. Her Web address is: http://www.

poseidon.net/AskCarson.