05/27/2016 02:58 EDT | Updated 05/28/2017 05:12 EDT

What Does RSVP Truly Mean?

The word 'RSVP' written in rusty metal letterpress type sitting on a wooden ledge background.
Enterline Design Services LLC via Getty Images
The word 'RSVP' written in rusty metal letterpress type sitting on a wooden ledge background.

Misunderstanding can be commonplace when foreign words find themselves in mainstream English. Take for example the French abbreviation "RSVP", which is short for répondez s'il vous plaît. Undoubtedly you've seen the words RSVP printed on wedding, birthday party, or similar invitations -- but do you truly know what RSVP means in English, and how these words should be interpreted?

Those of you who truly know the meaning of RSVP may leave this article, because you realize that an RSVP is a convention placed there by etiquette, good manners, and common sense. The rest of you, please read on to educate yourself, and learn how to adhere to this social convention whenever you find it on invitations.

First, let's do a quick quiz to see how the term RSVP should be decoded:

QUIZ - What Does RSVP Mean?

A) Please respond to the host only if you can attend

B) Please respond to the host only if you cannot attend

C) No need to respond - just attend on the day of the event or not

D) Please respond to the host either way - whether you can attend or not

So, which option did you select: A, B, C or D? As a parent who holds birthday parties for her children, I can attest that option "C" has been the most popular: "no need to respond, just attend on the day of the event or not". However, is this the correct way to respond to an RSVP? What does RSVP mean in English anyway?

Whereas RSVP can be translated as "please respond" in English, option "D" is actually the correct answer to the quiz: "please respond to the host either way, whether you can attend or not". This is a courtesy to your host, so he knows how many plates to set out, how much food to buy, and in the case of a catered event -- how many "heads" he will be paying for. Yes, I said paying for. In a catered event like a wedding banquet or even a child's birthday party, the host must specify how many guests will be attending--and pay for that number of guests whether they show or not.

Don't confuse the term RSVP with "RSVP - regrets only", which means to only let the host know if you cannot attend. And if you look closely on a given invitation, you may also note an "RSVP by" followed by a date. This means that the host would like you to reply whether you can attend or not, by that specific date. When arranging a venue, this is essential for ensuring the room is large enough to accommodate all of the guests. Or in terms of head count, the host may be penalized for adding additional guests at the eleventh hour -- or in some cases it may not even be possible.

Lost and forgotten invitations aside, why do so many invitees neglect to RSVP? Are good manners just disappearing, have we gotten too busy to call, text, e-mail or mail back our RSVP -- or has the meaning of RSVP simply been lost in translation? In the meantime, I'll use my imagination to guess if I should lay out additional lunches, cupcakes and loot bags for the 14 kids whose parents did not RSVP to my child's birthday party invitation. Maybe they're going with option "B", right?

Please weigh in in the comments below and have your say.

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