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Dear Miss Manners: When asking someone to pass an item, say the butter, my mother says "Pass the butter." I correct her by saying, "Pass the butter, please."

She maintains that if she is going to say "Thank you," she is not required to say "please." Please clarify this so we can have closure to an argument that has been going on for years.

Gentle Reader: Did your poor mother grow up when there were wartime shortages? Does she think that politeness is rationed? So if you've said "Good morning," you've used up your allotment for the day and can't say "Good night"?

Actually, "please" and "thank you" come as a set, like -- well, Miss Manners realizes that it would no longer be understandable if she said like love and marriage. Like salt and pepper.

Many unhappy returns

Dear Miss Manners: I am so angry and hurt right now that I am on the verge of tears. I called my nephew to get some idea of what he and his bride-to-be could use that they did not already have (in their, I assumed, already established household) and he told me that they needed sheets badly.

My sister told me that they didn't like colors and only cotton would do. When his brother was married five years ago, she told me in no uncertain terms that money gifts were in bad taste and therefore would be unwelcome.

So I spent all of one day trying to find white cotton sheets that were more than utilitarian, something special. I finally found some that were trimmed in eyelet and purchased a queen-sized set, plus a decorative heart-shaped pillow to go with it. The whole thing ran over $50 -- not, I am told, an exorbitant amount these days.

What really cost me was the time: I am a widow supporting myself as a computer consultant who is paid by the hour, so the day off cost me more than $200.

The bride-to-be accepted the gift with glee at the shower, but yesterday I received a note from her saying that she had returned the things to the store and will put the money toward a table because "the one we have is too small; I know you will understand."

Since it is extremely unlikely that I would ever get a chance to check under her bedspread or look in her linen closet for my gifts, she need not have told me that. And I genuinely wish she hadn't.

These are not poor little working people, scratching to make a home for themselves. I am sure it would be a drop in the bucket for them to purchase a new dining-room table without my contribution.

While I was at the store, I also purchased a featherbed as a wedding gift and had it sent directly to them; this cost more than $155. If I learn that she has also taken back the featherbed "to add to the money to buy a new table," I will return my wedding response as "Thank you for your note about the linens, and thank you for helping me to make a decision about traveling to attend your wedding. I have decided to take the money I would spend on airfare, hotel, car rental and a new evening dress, plus lost earnings, and put it toward a new bedroom set; the one I have is hand-painted stuff I inherited from the children. I know you will understand."

The hidden message: I'm sorry you didn't like my gifts enough to keep them. Since I am apparently of so little consequence to you that you do not even care to have something that "Aunt Florie gave us," I am sure you won't even miss me at the wedding.

What do you think? Too snippy?

Gentle Reader: Unfortunately, yes, but Miss Manners is sure that you know that already -- probably better than she knows why people want to sleep on several pounds of geese. Or to tell their benefactors that their efforts to please have failed.

However, the response you wrote is not wasted. Miss Manners enjoyed it thoroughly.

Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.

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