People don't keep spitting the way they used to, for which Miss Manners is thankful.

Perhaps one ought to have loftier blessings on which to dwell. She does, she does. But one should not overlook the small blessings that make a difference in our everyday lives.

Back in Victorian times, when people all behaved perfectly because they couldn't think of anything else to do (parents were too strait-laced to talk about sex, which prevented several generations of their descendants from discovering its existence), spitting was considered a natural and therefore uncontrollable human urge, although not for ladies. (By the same reasoning, ladies, who didn't talk about their natural urges in public, the television forum not having been invented, were presumed not to have any.)

Spitting in public was not exactly cheered, but it was tolerated. There were spittoons at strategic places in otherwise dignified surroundings. There would have been plant material in your prized antique brass planter, but it would have been freshly chewed.

Nor was that the worst of it. Spittoons were not the target of choice. Sharp young blades, and rusty old blades for that matter, considered it cool not to care whether they hit them. The marble floors in government offices, hotels and banks were comparable in color, odor and charm to the streets outside.

There's another change for which to be thankful: People who think transportation pollution began with the automobile must be unfamiliar with the system of converting fuel into waste used by the previous means of transportation, the horse.

Other small etiquette improvements for which Miss Manners is grateful include the answering machine as a replacement for turning off the lights and pretending no one is home; the daily bath as a replacement for the vinaigrette, however charming that tiny silver box in which the chemical antidote to unwashed acquaintances was kept; and economy class, as an ever-so-slight improvement over steerage.

Miss Manners is even more grateful for major etiquette improvements. The expression of bigotry, even less appealing than spitting, has become socially unacceptable, and anyone who made crude public comments or jokes about Indians, for example, would be a pariah. Of course, it's still open season on Puritans.

As an expression of her thankfulness about aspects of etiquette that have changed for the better, Miss Manners would like to offer relief to those who see only the changes that are for the worse. And Thanksgiving is the day when they are likely to see a great many of them.

These may not be motivated by ill will, although there is some of that going around when some families get together. More innocently, it may have to do with this being a novelty--an occasion when people are expected to eat sitting down at a clothed table, actually facing one another.

If these people could bestir themselves to remove their baseball caps, refrain from encircling their plates with their left arms and making fists to grasp their forks, omit provocative words from their conversation, and make themselves pleasant and helpful, Miss Manners would be thankful.

In return, they will receive the blessing of a family dinner free from lamentations about how manners have deteriorated.

(c) 1999, Judith Martin