Q: How does one correctly respond to the greeting “Howdy”? Is it to reply “Howdy” back, as in responding to “How do you do?”
A: The origin of the word “Howdy” (with alternate spellings, such as “howedye” or “how d’ee”) dates from the 16th century in southern England. As Miss Manners recalls, it was used, as American Southerners do now, to morph the greeting, “How do you do?” into a colloquial contraction.
So yes, “Howdy” requires only a reciprocal “Howdy” — and perhaps a mirroring of its enthusiasm depending on how deep in the South one finds oneself.
Q: While many people choose to eat gluten-free for health reasons, I must eat gluten-free to avoid health issues. While celiac disease affects about one out of every 100, most people do not know how widespread gluten is in a lot of foods.
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When we are invited for dinner at friends’ homes, my wife or I generally tell the host of our dietary restrictions. However, preparing a gluten-free meal is more difficult than one might imagine. Let’s say the host serves steak that was marinated in soy sauce, a salad that has croutons in it and a vegetable that was prepared using flour.
The host was diligently trying to prepare a gluten-free meal but didn’t know it was in soy sauce. She thought the croutons could be pushed aside, not realizing that one crumb can cause diarrhea.
How does one handle this awkward situation? I really don’t mind leaving the party hungry, but the embarrassment toward the host can be extremely awkward.
A: Your host should not be paying attention to what you are eating.
If you are making reasonable attempts to eat what is served and graciously don’t mind being underfed, then Miss Manners assures you that you are doing all that you can. If pressed, you may say, “I hate to be an annoyance, but you cannot imagine in what foods they hide gluten. Really, I am fine. I had a big meal earlier.”
You need not explain what time — or day — defines “earlier.”
Q: When answering the phone, what is the proper etiquette when unsure of the gender on the other line? Are you to take a guess, or not use the traditional “sir” or “ma’am”?
Also, what do you do when one insults you by calling you the wrong gender on the phone, either the caller or the recipient?
A: Names are so useful. But if you are unsure of the honorific, try both. As in, “Is Mr. or Ms. Homebody available?” — and the recipient can choose.
But presumably you are calling a particular person, and if you aren’t, Miss Manners wonders if you should be making that call.
If someone mistakes your gender, please ignore it and try not to consider it an insult. If it still bothers you, you can say: “Oh, I’m afraid you’ve reached the ma’am of the house. If you are looking for the sir, I can leave a message.”
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.