Dear Amy: In the last few years, my middle-aged aunt adopted a particular word to express mild annoyance. For example, when our plans for Sunday brunch had to be canceled, she used this word.
It is a word you hear occasionally in British movies or television shows, but I don’t think it is widely used in North America.
I’ve been suspicious that she doesn’t know the origin or meaning of this word, and I assume she would be embarrassed if she said it in front of someone — like a Brit — who did know and took offense.
For context, I have never heard my gentle aunt say even the mildest expletive (“darn” is as close as she has come to swearing in front of our family), so I do not think that she is aware of what she is saying.
To be sure, I looked up the word, and it is deemed a “term of abuse,” “derogatory,” and is considered to be homophobic. I believe that my aunt would be horrified to know this, but I also don’t want to police the words of the people around me. What should I do to handle this gracefully? — Concerned Niece
Dear Concerned: Thank you for supplying the word in question, which I have redacted from your letter, for the reasons you state. To describe it, however — basically your non-swearing aunt is flinging the “F-bomb,” with a (potentially) homophobic twist. It’s a very long way from “darn” to this expression.
The way to gently correct someone is to do so privately, one time only, and with no extra commentary.
You might say to her, “I notice you occasionally say that word; have you ever looked up what it means?” She can then either ask you, or quietly look it up on her own. Ultimately, she might relate that she heard Hugh Grant say it in a movie, and if Hugh said it, it must be OK.
A substitute English expression she might adopt instead would be the milder (but still somewhat vulgar) “bollocks.” I give it my stamp of approval, because I heard Idris Elba say it in a movie, and so it must be OK.
Dear Amy: Last year my brother married a lovely woman whom he had met overseas. They made their home here in the U.S., and had a baby shortly thereafter.
We had thought the marriage was a happy one, but she misses her family and her home country very much. She and my brother are now ending their marriage and she and the baby will be moving back to her family.
As the years pass and this child grows up, how best can we (aunt and uncle) maintain some contact with the child? We’d like there to be some relationship, no matter how great the distance.
Dear Eager: The best way to maintain a relationship with this child (and the best predictor of how this relationship will evolve) is the friendship you will be able to maintain with the child’s mother. She will be the conduit to the child.
Always remember birthdays and other special occasions. Send cards and short letters (even before the child can read). Ask the child’s mother if you can occasionally Skype with the family to check in, and electronically share photos back and forth.
I hope that as this child grows, they will have a positive relationship with their father and the rest of their American family. Visits back and forth will be important, and your notes, cards and modest gifts will help to sustain the relationship between visits.
I want to reassure you that while it is challenging to build a relationship internationally, a child can feel loved, even from a distance. I applaud your desire to try.
Dear Amy: OMG I shuddered when I read the letter from “Once and Future Girlfriend,” whose “boyfriend” stole her car and was currently in jail for other offenses. I admit I was worried about how you might respond to this doozy.
Thank you for suggesting various brands of sneakers she might wear for the fastest getaway. And when you suggested that she and the jailbird guy’s other girlfriend should “Thelma and Louise it,” I laughed out loud.
I think that a good general rule is that if your guy steals your car, that’s a deal breaker. — Fan
Dear Fan: Let’s get the T-shirt made!