“My children are always saying such dreadful things to each other– derogatory personal remarks that I consider downright rude. They, and sometimes my wife, call them “just teasing.” What would you consider the polite side of teasing, and where, even in a family is it just nastiness?
“Insulting is such a favorite human pastime that it is always creeping up again under one supposedly virtuous name or another — teasing, honesty, helpfulness.
“The rule about proper teasing is this: If it has to do with something the person can’t help, such as physical appearance, it is only allowable if the characteristic is obviously much admired. If it has to do with behavior, it must be behavior of which the doer is, however bashfully, proud. … In other words, family teasing is designed to take note of the successes and idiosyncrasies that make one beloved, not the traits that have been driving everyone crazy.
Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children: A Primer for Everyone Worried about the Future of Civilization, Atheneum, New York, 1984.