One of the charges against Victorianism - a concept that makes such a good adversary for the young that it outlasted by nearly a century the long-lived lady for which it was named - is that it was too prudish to acknowledge the connection between the birth of babies and the event that engendered them.
So you can imagine Miss Manners' surprise when she discovered that this prudishness is now being practiced almost exclusively by the young. Should anyone attempt to mention that infamous connection, youths are not only shocked but outraged.Here is the way this works in a standard conversation between a mother and daughter:
"Brittany has a new baby."
"Oh, how nice. I didn't even know she was married."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Mother. What made you think she was married? I only said she had a baby."
"Oh, I see. But isn't there a man in the picture?"
"Well, she does have a boyfriend, but I don't think it's serious."
"What do you mean not serious? Isn't he the father of the baby?"
"I wouldn't dream of asking. It really isn't any of our business. But if you must know, I don't think so. She only started seeing this guy after she got pregnant."
"But what about before? What about the father of the baby? Isn't there any question of marrying him?"
"Mo-ther! All right, there was some guy, but she didn't really like him. You wouldn't want her to marry someone she didn't like, would you?"
"She must have liked him a few months ago."
"Not necessarily. This just happened, OK? If you're going to talk like that, assigning blame, I can't tell you anything. It wasn't her fault. I think you ought to be happy for her, instead of raking up the past and asking embarrassing questions. You're being judgmental."
Observers may notice, although the participants do not, that the mother has not had a chance to commit the high crime of passing judgment. (Parents are regularly advised by authorities even higher than their own children that the only way to be worthy of a child's confidence is to lack judgment.) Nor has the mother proposed using this information to embarrass someone for something that can no longer be changed. Miss Manners considers it an improvement whenever society gives up an opportunity to crow.
But even mentioning the connection, in a general discussion out of the hearing of anyone concerned, is now considered embarrassing. That an act someone did some weeks ago should be related to her present state is too shocking a concept to bear mention.
Ah, well, Miss Manners doesn't want to shock the young. But she does feel a twinge of nostalgia for the time when the young expressed outrage that their elders were not willing to face facts.
Dear Miss Manners: What are the duties pertaining to new neighbors? How about old ones?
Gentle reader: Oh, how Miss Manners would love to discuss the makings of a welcome basket for new neighbors - little baked goodies tucked in a checkered napkin, and perhaps a neighborhood guide tucked in the side - and the kindly habit of keeping in touch with older ones without being intrusive.
Times being what they are, however, she had better put forth more basic rules:
1. If your new neighbors have habits you don't like, explain your problem pleasantly and apologetically before, and preferably instead of, calling the police.
2. If your established neighbors fail to take in their papers and mail, or if you notice someone else taking out their possessions, call the police.