The Goops they lick their fingers And the Goops they lick their knives; They spill their broth on the tablecloth -- Oh, they lead disgusting lives! The Goops they talk while eating, And loud and fast they chew; And that is why I'm glad that I Am not a Goop -- Are you? -- From "Goops and How to Be Them," by Gelett Burgess

GOOPS AREN'T suave. Goops do not look like Leslie Howard in a dinner jacket. They have perfectly round heads like peeled grapes, puggy tenacle arms and beady little eyes.

Goops were invented to intimidate children into having good table manners: Twang your peas at me and it's back to the nursery for you, kid. What's more you'll end up looking like a Goop.

Unfortunately the Goop threat doesn't work as well on grown-ups. Trying to cure a fully formed adult of nasty table manners is almost impossible, old dogs and all that. People can get their feelings hurt if you tell them they eat like a wolverine. And it's very rude to tell them. But after all, everyone has to eat.

If you have done nothing for your mother today (mother's are horribly impressed by good table manners), remember your manners. Mother will think she brought you up right if you impress her with your new-found manners. So read this and absorb all. Or if you think someone is really a shame at the table, cut this out and mail it to them. Anonymously, of course. s

It isn't necessary to mention the obvious table tenets (don't talk with your mouth full, don't slurp soup, don't burp, etc.) so we will start with the two basic methods of getting the food to the appropriate oriface: with fingers or utensils. From Hand to Mouth

Babies are especially resourceful when it comes to foregoing the fork and employing the fingers. Childrens' hands are very small and they are impatient so you can't expect much from them in table etiquette. There is one problem with generically wonderful children. They seem to lack a sense of gooey. As a result they are not particularly fussy about how they receive nourishment. Small children are best fed before the guests arrive and left in front of the tube watching the Hulk. Politics and religion do not interest them anyway.

There are foods that can be attractively eaten with fingers (but you still have to wash hands before eating). Round things such as olives, radishes, grapes, kumquats, cherry tomatoes and other small fruits are best eaten with the hands. They tend to fly across the room when you try to spear them with a fork. Amy Vanderbilt advises eating small unsliced pickles (like gerkins or cornichons) with a fork; but it is an affectation, like fingerbowls. g

Corn-on-the-cob is eaten with the hands, but it should be served only at informal gatherings. (When buttering corn on the cob, you should butter and season only a few rows at a time, eat those rows, then butter and season again. Also on buttering: Never butter bread held in the palm of your hand up in the air, but with the bread resting on the side of a plate. Baked potatoes and rice are always buttered with a fork.)

Crisp bacon is eaten with the index finger and thumb, but the fat on thicker bacon, if taken off, should be cut with a knife and fork.

Artichokes are always eaten by holding the pointed end of the leaf and scraping each leaf against the teeth (how else?), but the heart is cleaned from the choke with knife and fork, then sliced. That is why it is not a good idea to cut off the points. You need something to hold on to. Only a few people have actually complained of being stabbed by an artichoke.

Strangely enough, it is proper to eat asparagus by holding the woody base, dunking it into sauce and lowering into an open mouth. You eat each stalk, one at a time, up to the tough part and toss the remainder on a side plate. Don't do this if the asparagus is already sauced, or if you are, for that matter. Butter or Hollandaise all over your chin is not nice. As mothers are wont to say: We do not wear our food.

Junk food is mostly eaten with hands: hamburgers (unless you're not American, then you can't figure how to fit it in your mouth), pizza, greasy fried chicken and other small fried things. They emphasize paper napkins over utensils in fast-food eateries anyway.

Eating with your hands can be an art. Slipping a raw oyster into your mouth and sipping the liquor is tricky without making slurpy noises. Never cut an oyster, no matter how big. Other types of seafood can be eaten either with a small seafood fork or with the fingers, depending upon the preparation and the level of formality.

Chicken as finger food versus eating it with knife and fork is a hot table-manner controversy. Grown people usually squirm out of it by asking their host (also a grown person) if they are allowed to use their hands. This seems to be an irresponsible attitude. If you still don't know whether or not to eat chicken with your fingers, don't. Use a knife and fork. Chicken is still cheap, so you don't have to knaw away at the bones. Fancy birds like grouse, partridge, quail and pheasant are always eaten by impaling the bird with a fork and removing the meat with the knife after the accessible meat has been carved away. (The shredded paper hats that are sometimes stuck on the end of chop bones are a vestigal reminder of the days when ladies didn't want to get their gloves greasy by picking up a joint of meat.)

Food does not only go into the mouth with fingers, but it is all too often removed in the same manner. A rule has somehow stuck that you remove a thing from your mouth the same way it went in; if the olive went in on the tines of a fork, then it is removed by quietly spiting the pit back onto the fork and placing it on the plate. However, this seems a little too obvious. Someone else's masticated pit is not as nice as yours, so the old method seems best: Cup your hand around your mouth and push the pit, birdshot or weird thing into your fist so no one can see it, unobtrusively remove it and place it on your plate. Never spit anything into your napkin unless it is a bad clam.

On squeezing lemons: Place your free hand over the lemon slice so you don't get someone you like in the eye. Or if you are a thoughtful host wrap individual lemon slices with cheese cloth.

Don't pick your teeth at the dinner table. If you feel ridiculous because there is a piece of spinach interfering with your smile, go to the bathroom and remove it. It's a good idea if you are entertaining to put toothpicks in a small cup in the bathroom. With Bold Knife and Fork

The controversy here is not whether to, but how to. Americans have a legacy of Puritan propriety that has left them switching silverware back and forth, making all kinds of racket when the silver hits the plate. There was a time when the continental method of eating was considered barbaric by Americans, but we're becoming more tolerant and able to recognize efficiency. In the continental style the fork is used tines down in the left hand (or reverse if left-handed), food is pushed onto the back of the fork by the knife and into the mouth without switching. This is an especially nice way to eat a meat and potatoes dinner. The food tastes better all squished up on the fork.

When a meat is finished and the eater doesn't want dessert, the fork (tines up in America, down in Europe) and knife (sharp side in) should be placed to form the clock time of 6:30 on his plate. If dessert is to follow, silverware is placed at 3:15. Unused silverware is never put on the plate, nor is used silver put on the table.

Once the silverware is mastered here are some pointers on handling the meal.

On the first course: Wait for your soup to cool, don't blow on it spoonful by spoonful. The soup spoon is not thrust into the mouth whole but tipped so the broth runs through your lips. And when the bowl is almost empty tip the bowl away from you, not toward, to ladel what's left.

Hold red wine glasses with the thumb and forefinger at the base of the bowl, chilled white wine away from the bowl, by the stem to keep the wine from getting warm. Brandy, however, is held in a snifter with both hands cupped around the bowl to warm the liquor.

Melon is not supposed to be gouged with a spoon but sliced horizontally above the rind, then cut in parallel lines perpendicular to the melon. Each section is then easily lifted out with a fork. The melon should be cut this way when served if you are eating in a restaurant. It's one of the only chances you will get to have somebody cut your food for you.

Vanderbilt says berries are always eaten with a spoon except whole strawberries. They are held by the stem, eaten in a couple bites and the stem deposited on your plate.

Sometimes ice cream is eaten with a fork. If sherbet is used as a topping for fruit salad it can be eaten with a fork.

Iranian caviar, when you used to be able to get it, was served with small spoons, but that doesn't matter anymore.

If you want to be correct, do not serve vegatables in separate saucers unless they are stewed tomatoes.

Why do people always cite eating peas with a knife as an example of bad table manners? It is impossible without doing a self-inflicted tonsilectemy. It is difficult to balance those little peas, and why would you want to do it in the first place?

When cutting cake you are expected to use your free hand to help remove a piece.

Spaghetti is clumsy to eat, but never cut it. If you like short pasta eat Spaghettios. Also, don't use a spoon as a buttress for twirling the noodles around your fork. That's for gringos. Bread sticks can be buttered with a knife along one side or the end stuck into a butter pat.

One final word. A fork is not a comma and a knife is not an exclamation point, so when discussing politics (not at all rude in Washington) or religion at the table, keep your silverware to yourself. One minor concession. Elbows on the table are acceptable after dinner.