Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 30 1999 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.

Dear Prudence,

On a scale of 1 to 10, my problem is maybe a 1.5, but it's a problem nonetheless. My husband's business requires us to entertain at home quite a bit. His company (which pays the bills) uses a particular caterer with whom I do not get along. The woman in charge seems to resent my suggestions, though I am always polite, and it has come back to me that she is bad-mouthing me whenever she can. With Christmas and New Year's coming up, we will be seeing more of her than ever. I do not need this aggravation, Prudie, and fear she is harming my reputation. Any solutions?

--Hostess With the Cateress From Hell

Dear Host,

Oh, how sharper than a servant's tooth. Alas, people helping in the house are always in a position to carry tales outside. But to be pragmatic, here are your options. 1) Discontinue making any suggestions. And to close down the catering lady, make it a point to tell her that you have decided to defer to her professional experience. 2) Ask the appropriate person in your husband's company if you might have the leeway of choosing your own caterer. If the answer is "No," see Solution 1.

Good luck, and just remember this: Using caterers may have a few attendant problems, but it beats cooking.

--Prudie, practically

Dear Prudence,

I fear that a certain software billionaire may be a nut job. (No, not your software billionaire.) The one who has my dander up--pardon the animal metaphor--is a man named David Duffield from my hometown, San Francisco. He has pledged $200 million for homeless dogs and cats. What about HOMELESS PEOPLE?

I am disgusted and wonder what you think of this.

--Burned Up in Northern California

Dear Burn,

Prudie thinks the old adage is true: Money doesn't care who has it. While Prudie knows that animal lovers are a fiercely loyal lot (and vociferous too), there is no recourse from these monetary gifts to fur-bearing recipients. You feel disgust, Prudie feels regret, but you must put aside your mad-on and get back to business.

--Prudie, philosophically

Dear Prudie,

I just noticed that you used the word "empathetic." Please see the attached letter previously sent to Slate (but not published) as to why "empathetic" should not be used. Despite my letter I see that Slate has let that word slip through again.

--Alan Church, Lexington, Ky.

Dear Al,

Prudie never intended to go to William Safire-land with linguistic matters ... but what the hell! Here are the highlights of your (unpublished) letter for the edification of those Prudie people and Slate editors who might be interested:

Slate contributes to the continuing degradation of the language. It seems that only psychologists know that the word is "empathically," not "empathetically," as used in David Edelstein's review of Unmade Beds. While you will find "empathetic" in some dictionaries, that is only because so many people have (mis)used it, thinking if it is sympathy/sympathetic it must be empathy/empathetic. Not so.

Have you noticed that almost no one uses "reticent" correctly anymore? And now, 20 years after I predicted it, I notice that some dictionaries offer "reluctant" as a meaning for "reticent." And of course "disinterested" has come to mean "uninterested." Where will it all end?

Oh, probably with "Have a nice day."

--Prudie

Dear Prudence,

This is a heartache for me, though it is actually my daughter's problem. She is married to a womanizing louse who takes no particular pains to cover his tracks. They have been married for 11 years, and "the trouble" was apparent soon after they married. My daughter is torn about whether to cut the creep loose or to hope against hope that he will change. There are children. You are experienced, and I am assuming you have a thought-out opinion on this type of situation. Thank you.

--Heartsick

Dear Heart,

Prudie agrees with the late and witty Mo Udall, who said, in another context, "That condition can be cured only with embalming fluid." Prudie also thinks guys like this are lucky if they're not Bobbittized.

It is likely that you and your daughter have discussed this, but the next time it comes up you might point out that tomcat habits are not likely to change and, further, that children are not benefited by having tense and angry parents. Additionally, through some kind of family osmosis, children pick up that a parent is a philanderer, and this, in turn, gives an unspoken OK to such behavior. The decision must be hers.

As a mother herself, Prudie hopes you can disengage on a gut level from your daughter's difficult situation and that you can achieve some peace of mind knowing that adults get to make their own decisions about their lives. Be a shoulder for your daughter, and let's hope she decides the best course for herself and the children.

--Prudie, maternally

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