Q. I must write and tell you that you have been instrumental in the prevention of An Atrocious Act. You deserve vast quantities of credit, and I thank you.

This afternoon at the grocery store, a man ran his cart up the backs of my ankles. I looked at him, naively expecting an apology, and he glared at me, apparently waiting for the same thing. He sneered and said, "What are you gawkin' at"" I calmly told him that I thought he was very rude."

Now it may be that a truly civilized person would not have said even that, but, given that what I wanted to do was indent his jaw with the can of Campbell's Bean-n-Bacon in my hand, 'i thought it showed admirable restraint. I knew which of those alternatives you would select as a response becoming a lady, and that knowledge is the only thing that saved his orthodontia.

I do have a question: What is your opinion of Mr. Sherlock Holmes' statement to Watson that "le mauvais gout mene au crime "? I'm a bit worried, you see, about my choice of stationery. Could this be the first step on the road to crime? (I don't meant to pretentious, so I'll translate that -- it means "poor taste leads to crime.")

A. Actually poor taste is, itself, a crime. However, this judge graciously takes into account circumstances, motivation, provocation and such, and is more overjoyed to see improvement than anxious to punish peccadilloes. Miss Manners is so pleased with your restraint in the grocery store aisle that it makes her nearly blind to the fact that you wrote her on lined paper.

The road you are on does not lead to crime, but to suffering fools and writing on foolscrap.

You may be interested to hear why it is that, as the great detective noted, poor taste leads to crime. In Miss Manners' opinion, it is because ignoring the claims of harmony, refusing to develop sensitivity to one's surroundings and acting against the sensibilities of others develops brutality. sThere is little distance between asking a person a rude question, such as "What are you gawkin' at?" and criminally attacking that person's ankles, as you may have noticed.

Q. What do you call your love?

Paramour. Webster: from par (with) amour (love). Means mistress, lover or sweetheart. It's a great word. It's a great life.

A. How nice for you. Miss Manners continues her search for a conventional term for the person with whom one lives in a quasi-maritial relationship and would appreciate suggestions from other readers.

Here are two more that have come in her mail:

"My suggestion is (origin unknown) that this companion-person be named an 'ummer.' One explanation for the origin of this handy word is that it came into use when people stood around saying '. . . and this is our daughter's um . . . er . . .' You see what I mean."

"As far as the title for women who are 'live-in friends' is concerned, I recommend a familiar 18th-century English solution. It seems that most, if not all, women over the age of consent were called Mrs., whether married or not. Like the delightfully named actress, 'Mrs. Bracegirdle.'"