Miles Kington: Let me see, what's a polite way of putting this?

It is the height of bad manners to suggest to any writer that their oeuvre is less than perfect
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The Independent Online

I see that after Eats, Shoots & Leaves, her previous bestseller, Lynne Truss is now bringing out a book on manners. Or should I call her Ms Truss, as I have never met her?

No. We have all met Lynne Truss through her books. Once a writer puts his or her forename on a book, he or she is inviting us to share the informality. It would then be bad manners for us to insist on formality.

What about writers who prefer to be known by their initials? AS Byatt, for instance?

Even if you know their first name, do not use it. By choosing to be known by his initials, a writer is distancing himself or herself from you.

So if I met AC Grayling or OJ Simpson at a party, how should I address them?

If you met AC Grayling at a party, try calling him OJ and see how philosophical he is about it.

If I were to meet Lynne Truss at a party, would it be impolite to refer to the fact that she has been pipped at the post by several other writers?

I am not sure exactly what you mean ...

There have already been lots of books on manners this year. I think Simon Fanshawe was first with The Done Thing. There's a new book by Robert O'Byrne called Mind Your Manners. A butler called Sean Davoren has written a guide called Manners from Heaven. And Thomas Blaikie has just produced Blaikie's Guide to Modern Manners. So would it be polite to suggest to Lynne Truss that she has missed the boat?

Very impolite. It is the height of bad manners to suggest to any writer that their oeuvre is less than perfect.

Well, could I ask her at least what the title of her book means, Talk to the Hand? Is it another obscure expression concerning a panda?

No. I think it is a blunt American expression, meaning "shut up". You raise your palm to the person blethering away at you and say: "Talk to the hand, because the face ain't listening."

Then why has Lynne Truss written a book about manners using a rude title ?

I imagine it is so she doesn't duplicate another book title.

But there is already a book out by cartoonist Gary Trudeau called Talk to the Hand!

I imagine Lynne Truss was unaware of it. Similarly with Robert O'Byrne ... In the 1990s there was a very good book by John Moles on the business cultures of the different countries in Europe. It was also called Mind Your Manners.

Oh dear. And what about the book by the butler, Mr Davoren, Manners from Heaven?

I regret to say Mr Davoren has, I am sure inadvertently, "borrowed" the title from none other than the great Quentin Crisp, who wrote a book called Manners From Heaven - A Divine Guide to Good Behaviour.

Is it not extremely bad manners for all these writers on etiquette to steal titles?

Oh, you must not mix up manners and etiquette. Mr Crisp points out that etiquette is merely a bundle of rules of behaviour with no intrinsic virtue, whereas,"manners are the way to achieve what we want without having to behave like a swine".

You have not answered my question.

I am so sorry. The answer is that it is not bad manners for the author to have stolen the title, but it is bad manners for their publisher not to have checked that there was not already a book with that name.

Of course, the publisher might have checked, found the name and liked it so much that he "borrowed" it.

The same thought had occurred to me. But I was too polite to mention it.

Thank you very much.

Not at all. Thank you. It was a pleasure. I so enjoyed it ...