Advice on manners and morals.
May 23 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing upon her rich experience of life, Prudence (Prudie to her friends) responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Please send your questions for publication to Prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

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Dear Prudie,

I have no problem of a personal nature at the moment. What I do have is a societal irritation. Not only the young but also adults who are professional broadcasters have taken to ending declarative sentences as though they were questions. Have you heard this irritating "modernization"? How did experienced radio and TV people of both genders turn into Valley Girls, and do you know where this annoying development came from?

--Earache in Atlanta

Dear Ear,

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Prudie is relieved that you are not in distress of a personal nature and hopes it is some comfort to you that she herself regards this way of speaking as revolting? It is called "up talk," and if Prudie knew its instigator she would slowly twist his question mark until it hurt. This raising of the voice at the end of a declarative sentence is the unfortunate result of trying to fluff up something that needs no fluffing: correct speech.

--Prudie, declaratively

Dear Prudie,

Are you hearing anything about Viagra from your readers? Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

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--Leonard in Portland

Dear Len,

Prudie is hearing a great deal about Viagra--but mercifully not from her readers.

As for Prudie's thoughts, she is sick of the subject, and to distract herself from the pharmacological drama going on she is entertained by imagining the drug being given to Dr. Judah Folkman's mice.

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Do not misunderstand. People of good will cannot begrudge those in genuine need, but the V pill is on its way to becoming a recreational drug, thereby creating ersatz libido, and thereby creating God only knows what problems.

Prudie also thinks the name unfortunate, sounding, as it does, like the well-known fertilizer.

--Prudie, dismissively

Dear Prudence,

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I need to know how to ask if someone is pregnant without giving offense if they're not. A casual (married) acquaintance of mine appears to be showing but not in a manner in which one can be certain. I suppose I could wait her out, but I want to start gossiping as soon as possible.

--Love,Naturally Curious in Washington

Dear Nat,

Prudie once made the mistake of asking the question you have in mind. My unfortunate query elicited this response: "I have a problem with my weight, and you have just ruined my day."

The only possibilities other than baby are obesity or a tumor--neither of which needs remarking on. And your use of the words "casual acquaintance" makes Prudie certain that you should ask no questions and put the gossip on hold.

--Prudie, privately

Dear Prudie,

I can hardly believe I am having this problem in this day and age. I am in my late 20s and in a serious relationship. We are discussing marriage, but he has one concern: his mother's, shall we say, "views." It seems my maybe-future mother-in-law is all caught up in ancestors, social pedigree, and similarly irrelevant issues. My boyfriend is afraid she will not welcome me with open arms out of fear her son will wind up out of the Social Register.

What is to be done?

--No DAR

Dear No,

Prudie has zero tolerance for this kind of thinking and, as a matter of fact, has always considered the Social Register the American Kennel Club for humans.

Your immediate determination is whether your beau shares his mother's views. If he is afraid of her disapproval, he will surely be substandard husband material. If he is not wholeheartedly in your corner on this one, say adios and look for someone who will not regard you as the little match girl.

--Prudie, democratically