Dear Miss Manners:

When dining, what is the proper way to dispose of a fish bone, shell or seed in the mouth? It takes my appetite away when an acquaintance spits onto his plate.

Miss Manners is fastidious too, but she hopes you are prepared for the startling news that the most delicate way to do this isn't the most proper. There is a whole other thing going here about not being too coy.

True, spitting on the plate is considered too frank by everyone (except, presumably, your acquaintance who did it--and who, not coincidentally, is the only person who doesn't get a frontal view of it). But spitting--or rather quietly depositing--these particular items into the hand is proper, and attempting to conceal this by use of a napkin is considered especially ridiculous.

Please note this rule applies only to fish bones, shells and seeds, after they are discreetly cleaned in the mouth. Meat byproducts or other chewed items exit via the fork, following the rule that things come out of the mouth using the same transportation by which they entered.

Dear Miss Manners:

At my workplace, I am occasionally greeted by an obnoxious co-worker or two who think my arrival on any particular day is sufficiently late (or my departure sufficiently early) to merit the comment (frequently in front of others), "Hey Jim Bob, banker's hours today?"

These people are not my superiors and they have no legitimate concern with my comings and goings, least of all with my particular reason for taking a few hours of leave that day.

Nevertheless, I'm often tempted to concoct a sufficiently horrifying reason for a late arrival or early departure (e.g. dying relative, emergency proctology exam, etc.) just to shut them up, particularly since these dolts are usually not themselves the exemplars of a superior work ethic (surprise!).

But as President Nixon advised on a different topic (and as you would probably agree), that would be wrong. Must I take each one of these bozos aside and explain why I find their comments offensive and annoying, or can you suggest a short, pithy rejoinder that will politely convey my resentment for being asked to justify my schedule or to detail that day's personal crisis?

Yes, but it will take patience. You have to be willing to smile vaguely when these remarks are made, as if you had discovered the secret of shirking without penalty, and say nothing.

Sooner or later, this will get to such people. As we already know that they are busybodies, one among them will be unable to resist asking a supervisor why you are allowed to get away with it.

This will be a mistake, as it not only carries the unpleasant air of tattling, but the implication that the supervisor isn't paying attention. Miss Manners trusts it will not be long before the office topic changes from the laxity of your hours to the injustice of the supervisor in telling people to mind their own business when they were only trying to help.

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