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Miss Manners: ‘American commoner’ is a contradiction in terms

Dear Miss Manners: I am confused upon hearing references to “American commoners,” as in, “Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry the American commoner Wallis Simpson.”

Does the phrase “American commoner” have any meaning? If so, can you explain it to me, and perhaps offer me an example of an American non-commoner?

Gentle Reader: When Article I of the U.S. Constitution banned “title(s) of nobility,” it had the side effect of rendering the designation “commoner” meaningless. It is nonsense to have the one without the other.

Therefore the only meaning of the phrase “American commoner” is as a sneer, used in circles where the term “American” was once sufficient condemnation. A character considered equally unsavory by the same set, the “American heiress,” once brightened British impoverishment by casting a shadow on the family escutcheon. This feat, however, was possible only when more sunlight shone on the Empire.

Today, that same heiress and her cash are more likely to be thought of as your American non-commoner.

It should be noted that Americans often make an opposite mistake about English commoners. In that system, a living nobleman’s children are commoners, although they are addressed with the courtesy titles of “lord” and “lady.” And yes, this includes your favorite television characters.

Daughters left out

Dear Miss Manners: I am 78, my husband is 85. We fell in love and married last year, and now his 60-year-old daughters are complaining that they never got to plan the wedding for their daddy – and they say they are “family,” and that he needs to choose to be with family or with me.

Is this accepted etiquette? Was it really their right to plan our wedding? Or is it the right of the bride to plan and pay for the wedding? Or is it the right of the couple getting married to plan it? Also, since when is a wife not family?

Gentle Reader: Do you really not have a glimmer of what these ladies mean when they say they would have liked to plan Daddy’s wedding?

They would have planned it to take place without you.

In any case, you seem to have accomplished it without their consent. Inventing an etiquette problem (there is no Declaration of Planning Rights) is not going to enhance family relations. You should ask for your husband’s help in that. But Miss Manners advises you not to tell his daughters to call you Mother.

This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s son, Nicholas Ivor Martin. Please send your questions to Miss Manners via email at