[written 5-9-02 updated 1-24-03]
People habitually use the term “RSVP” incorrectly.
It is a French acronym for “Répondez s’il vous plaît”. Translated into English, that’s “Respond if you please”.
So, when one puts that on a letter, one means to say, “Tell me whether you are coming or not.”. If you are coming, tell me. If you are not coming, tell me. Etiquette demands that you respond one way or the other. A non-response is an insult.
Many people think that it just means, “Call me back if (and only if) you are coming.” That is wrong wrong wrong.
A friend of mine throws these big parties with long lead times. One thing that he does, that I really really like is a graduated RSVP list. He writes:
I. Send me email and let me know whether you are
1) Definitely attending
2) Probably attending
3) Maybe attending
4) Probably not attending
or 5) Not attending
If your response is 1), 2), 3) or 4), you will receive all the followup mailings until you tell me to stop.
A few weeks later, we all get a list with the RSVP list of who will Definitely be there, Probably… etc. It works out very well..