Life Style

Miss Manners: Have the rules of handing someone sharp objects changed?

Dear Miss Manners: When I was growing up, I was taught that under no circumstances did one point a blade, or any other sharp object, at another person. When handing a knife or a pair of scissors to someone else, one handed the article with the handle toward the recipient and the blade tip pointed toward oneself.

Similarly, when setting the table, the knife blade always pointed toward one’s own plate, never toward that of another, and when resting the knife on the plate after cutting one’s food, the knife blade pointed toward oneself and never toward any other diner. It was considered the height of rudeness to do otherwise.

We were taught this custom originated when utensils might be used in an aggressive (and possibly deadly) manner against one’s dining companions, so pointing the blade toward oneself (and keeping one’s blade hand in view at all times) provided assurance that one did not intend to harm the company, at least not during dinner. In recent years, it seems as though this custom has largely disappeared.

When correcting nieces, I have been informed by my sibling (one of their parents) that I am completely wrong and that the blade is always pointed outward, whether in the place setting or when resting on the plate. I have not been able to find a reference to any change in the handling of blades in any reputable source. Has the blade rule changed? What is the etiquette for the proper handling of sharp pointed objects?

Changed? Do you think we few whose lifework it is to bring a bit of civilized behavior into a contentious world have time to fiddle with a perfectly workable rule? That we would bark out revisions such as, “Okay, everybody! Switch your knives around!” This rule dates from a time before hosts provided the place settings, when diners brought their hunting knives to the table. These were handy if the dinner conversation turned contentious. Do you think that possibility is so unlikely now that the rule needs to be reversed?

Dear Miss Manners: My father has never been a stickler for manners or etiquette. However, at every birthday celebration, he insists slices of cake be placed sideways on a person’s plate with the frosting on the left and top so you “eat toward the frosting.” I agree with the frosting at the top of the plate for visual reasons, but I can’t get behind the “frosting to the left” mandate. Is he correct?

No, the cake slice (unlike the knife) should point directly at the person who is about to demolish it. But Miss Manners will grant an exception for your father’s birthday.

Dear Miss Manners: I am so tired of being addressed as “Ms. (Name)” during phone calls, when I do not refer to myself that way. I tell them that (Name) is my first name, not my last. How should I handle this?

By dropping it. There is no need to teach people not to treat you with respect. Most people will do that anyway.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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