Q: Among those of my generation (I am 20), the phrase "Whatcha doin' tonight?" (along with such clever variations as "Whatcha doin' tomorrow?") has become rampant. It translates as, "I think I maybe might wanna ask you to do something tonight (tomorrow, etc.), but I don't wanna take a risk and come out and ask you to go out with me."

How does one respond? I find it offensive, not only because it's so wishy-washy, but also because I don't think it's anybody's business what I'm doin' or not doin' tonight.

Furthermore, does the response depend on how close a relationship the inquirer has with the inquiree? Is it an acceptable question for a spouse or close friend, but not for an acquaintance?

A: Yes. When a spouse says, "Whatcha doin'?" it means (aside from the fact that he is too lazy to open his mouth wide enough to pronounce the words) either "Do you have anything on the schedule that I need to know about?" or "Do you have any ideas about how we should amuse ourselves?"

However, those who have no right to assume that you will be spending the time together, or that your schedule will automatically affect theirs, should not ask such a question. How does one know whether one wants to accept an invitation until that invitation, with relevant particulars, has been offered?

One can only defend oneself by answering in the style of the question. By saying, "Oh, I dunno. Coupla things I oughta do. Wha 'bout you?" you leave room to declare that you will either postpone the unspecified "coupla things" to accept an invitation to go out to dinner, or that you will be too occupied with them to accept an invitation to help paint someone else's house.

Q: I am a member of a group that has as its purpose the planning and execution of an annual formal-attire canoe outing. During the daylong float down a very placid river, we partake of caviar and pa te' and freely quaff champagne.

Having solved the problems of finding tulip-shaped, non-breakable champagne glasses and the graceful methods of upending while keeping a firm grasp on said libation, we find ourselves faced with another etiquette dilemma: whether gloves should be worn by the female members of our company. The ladies are equally divided upon the question. After a boisterous discussion, it was proposed and unanimously agreed upon that we submit this burning issue to you.

A: Ladies, even boisterous ones, never go to social events -- hardly ever even venture outside of their own houses -- without hats and gloves.

What has perhaps confused you is the slightly sporting nature of your excursion. Even then, many sports -- riding, gardening, baseball -- have their own particular hat and glove requirements, although it is true that ladies do not wear gloves swimming.

"Floating," however, is not an active sport; the ladies must wear gloves. Quaffing champagne and partaking of caviar and pa te' are, so at that time, the ladies must remove their gloves.

Perhaps all this is confusing. Wouldn't you like Miss Manners to go along and demonstrate?

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.