The ticklish question of who has been dropped from the new 1978 edition of the Social List of Washington is not being answered - for the first time in many years.

This break with long-standing precedent was made by the new publisher, Jean Shaw Murray of Kensington, the daughter of the book's late publisher, Carolyn Hagner Sahw, who died last April.

In publicity sent out in advance of the arrival of the 48th edition at homes of subscribers this week, there is no naming of names of those excluded. There are 388 who have been dropped and about 600 new names included, largely diplomatic changes and Carter appointees.

Those whose names have been deleted from the new edition have either lost Washington social status because they moved away or failed to answer the questionnaire sent out to them months in advance of publication.

"None was dropped because of messy divorces or unsavory publicity," syas a spokeman for the new publisher.

Thomas Bertram Lance, the controversial director of the Office of Management and Budget, might have been dropped after his investigation by the Senate. But he resigned, and there was no way to get his name out of the Green Book.

"The White House under President Jimmy Carter had made some protocol changes. Four offices have been upgraded in the table of precedence in the back of the book. These offices now follow the Cabinet.

And Bert Lance would have been second in the new precedence, just below the Vabinet.

Green Book editors, on the advice of the White House, have placed the United States representatives to the United Nations right below the Cabinet. This means Ambassador Andrew Young, of course, the first black to hold that post. Next comes the director of the Office of Managemet and Budget, who would have been Bert Lance had it not been for the Senate investigation of his financial affairs.

Teo others elevated to the same prorocol status as Young and Lance are the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors (Charles L. Schultze) and the special representative for trade negotiations (Robert S. Strauss, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee). All of these posts have Cabinet rank and precede the U.S. Senate.

The Cabinet has been enlarged to include the Secretary of Energy, James R. Schlesinger.

There are 40 top changes in the diplomatic corps, including one mew embassy, that of Surinam, now making a total of 132 countries.

There are 15 new senators listed and 70 new members of the House of Representatives.

Eleven new pages of protocol have been added in the back of the book. The Green Book office countinues to five protocol advice by telephone to subscribers to the $30 volume. Jean Murray keeps the same kind of "secret committee" if advisors on admissions to the book, established by her grandmother, Helen Ray Hagner, and her mother. A committee of four women and one man are the secret advisors. They decide on who shall be listed and who shall be ommitted. No one ever divulges their names.

In the past, the Green Book gained great publicity by annoucing the names of the unfortunates left out. Some did not care. For others, there were tears. May women, eager to be included in this prestigious directory, have gone to great lenghts to get themselves in and have protested violently when overlooked or removed.

Two member of the U.S. Supreme Court were dropped, and neither cared. Wiliiam O. Douglas, now retired, and Abe Fortas, who resigned were both omitted from past editions and are still out.

Douglas was omitted from the Green Book following this third divorve and after he took a 23-year-old woman as his fourth wife.

Fortas took the slight without comment, but justice Douglas was less restained at the time.

"I wasn't aware that I had ever been in it." he said, "so I don't see how I can miss being dropped bu it."

The Justice Douglas added: "What is the Green Book? Is it some kind of social register? I can't remenber ever having seen a copy."

Jean Murray decided to drop her mother's custom of announcing those omitted from the Green Book after consulting her lawyer.

Murray's own name now replaces that of her mother in gold letters on the cover of the Green Book. But like her mother, her name and address are omitted from the 391 pages of listings.

Jean Murray and her mother and grandmother have had top social prestige in washington for years, but modesty has always kept them from the pages of their own social list.