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The royal flush

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  April 16, 2007 06:41 PM

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Who'd have guessed that my 1922 quote from Emily Post in yesterday's column -- on the gaucheness of "Pleased to meet you" -- would be so timely? It was just such language, so the London press is saying, that scuttled the romance of Prince William and girlfriend Kate Middleton.

It was not Kate's own language, though -- contrary to the Reuters item in today's Globe -- that was deemed too rough. It was her mother, Carole, who was heard saying "Pleased to meet you" instead of "How do you do" and "Pardon" instead of "What?" And, worse, "using the word 'toilet' not 'lavatory,'" according to the Daily Telegraph.

Novelist and biographer A.N. Wilson, defending the Middletons in today's Daily Mail, reviewed some of those shibboleths: "If you say 'notepaper' rather than 'writing paper'; if you say 'spectacles' rather than 'glasses'; if you say 'serviette' for 'napkin,' you are almost certainly a member of the middle classes, rather than upper."

Or you may be an innocent foreigner. Last month, Lynne "Lynneguist" Murphy blogged about the trials of moving from the States to South Africa to England, each time having to learn the preferred way to ask for the bathroom, restroom, toilet, or loo.

Shopping for plumbing can be a puzzle too. My mom stopped into Home Depot not long ago and asked to look at lavatories, only to have a helpful fellow lead her to the towering wall of toilets. He thought she was being euphemistic, but no -- she was actually seeking a bathroom sink. At least her need wasn't urgent.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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