When Miss Manners fusses that she is finding menus increasingly unpalatable, she is not pointing out gravy stains.

Gravy stains are at least honestly achieved. Fresh ones might provide an accurate notion of what to expect. What gets to her is all that fatty wording being poured all over everything.

At one end of the food-business chain there is language intended to proclaim value for money. When portions are described as jumbo, Miss Manners is too timid to order them. It's not because she fears getting more food than she can eat, but because careless word association suggests that the meal may consist of flapping ears of baby elephant.

Often individual helpings are heralded as being so large they are called platters instead of dishes. Apparently that does not mean you will be served from a platter, a nicety that even the most expensive restaurants now skip, nor that there will be a platter available from which you can refill your plate. (What plate?) It means that you are allowed to eat right off the platter, kindly implying that you are able to put away enough to feed an entire boardinghouse.

Any extras are described with equal generosity. If there is a sauce, the food is said to be "slathered with," "swimming in" or, more vividly, "dripping with" it.

At the other end of the food-business chain, the idea is to insinuate a different sort of value--that which is so precious that it can hardly be seen by the common eye.

This is where you go to eat babies, and not baby elephants, either. Baby asparagus and baby lamb chops. New peas and new potatoes. You don't really get spices and sauces with this--only teasers: "served with just a hint of rosemary . . . a suggestion of garlic . . . a soupcon of creme fraiche."

And these are the places with the big absorbent napkins.

Is Miss Manners the only person who doesn't understand what the words "fresh" and "homemade" mean on menus? She does get the unwritten part--that if some things on the menu are, the rest must be stale and packaged. But she keeps forgetting how many adjectives it takes to get orange juice made from an orange--"fresh" doesn't do it, and "freshly squeezed" may also have been devalued.

Another puzzle is a language spoken only in restaurants, apparently originally derived from French. Du Jour is Miss Manners' favorite soup, although why they can't just call it Today's Soup she cannot understand. For that matter, neither can a lot of waiters, who, upon inquiry about what soup is being served today, will reply loftily that it happens to be Soup du Jour.

In proper usage, an entree is a cooked dish, usually shaped in a mold, of mixed ingredients that might include meat, fish, poultry or vegetables, but only in Restaurant French is it the main course. A proper entree is served before the roast; and while Miss Manners understands about not wanting to eat both, what she doesn't understand is why whatever is eaten as a main course can't be called the main course.

You would never guess from all this grousing that Miss Manners means to promote the further use of written menus. In restaurants, she prefers them to spoken ones, especially since these have turned into theatrical performances that trump any conversation that patrons had hoped to have for one another.

And she would like to revive them for private dinner parties, where it would be helpful, in a time of highly specialized requirements and tastes, for diners to know what they can choose from. Private menu cards, handwritten on pasteboard and placed on little stands where the guests can see them, are blessedly simple. There are no course headings, no wines listed and no adjectives. And no food stains, at least until the end of dinner.