Quick: What is your immediate association with the word “inappropriate”?

Criminal sexual activity, right?

And before that, it was being used as a euphemism for “wrong” and “rude.” Toddlers were told that it was inappropriate to go around hitting their playmates.

But Miss Manners hates to give up using the word entirely, because there are actions that may not be bad in themselves, but are so in the wrong context.

Hugging, for example.

Sure, go ahead and hug your partner — and your children, if they have not asked you to pu — leeze stop doing that in public. And hug anyone else with whom you are on mutually intimate terms. But stop thinking that you are conferring a blessing on anyone else and exhibiting your own warm feelings about your fellow creatures by thrusting yourself on others.

Clearly some of this activity is illegal harassment. But there has been so much pop-psych nonsense going around for decades about the humanitarian benefits of putting everyone in everyone else’s arms that Miss Manners is half-willing to believe that there are some people who just don’t get it.

This is because they cast the gesture in terms of the target’s presumed feelings. Their intention, they assure themselves and others when objections are raised, was not to gratify themselves, as would a sexual move, but to make those who are hugged feel comfortable, accepted, relaxed, included, validated — not violated.

Says who?

Says the male, putting himself in charge of dictating female feelings.

But one person’s idea of being a tactile humanitarian is another person’s idea of what constitutes a creep.

Throughout the touchy-feely era, which started decades ago, Miss Manners has tried to expose the premise as a hoax. If a hug is welcome, as a sign of affection, empathy or solidarity, it is because it is the physical expression of a genuine emotion. Believing that it represents that, when coming from a stranger, an acquaintance or anyone not previously close, surely requires a stretch.

How is it possible to detach the gesture from one’s feelings about the person who is making it? And if touching is so important, shouldn’t the person being touched have some say in whether to allow it? Shouldn’t the hugger be trying to fathom the possible reaction, instead of congratulating himself on bestowing a treat?

If that all sounds too difficult for a supposedly spontaneous gesture, the solution is to ban promiscuous hugs, and save the hugging for those who have shown it would be welcome. There are plenty of other ways to show disinterested warmth — through words, facial expressions and good deeds. Anything more is inappropriate.

Dear Miss Manners: I have a friend who gets irrationally mad when you respond to a text invite with "pass" — whether it's just the word "pass," or "I'll take a pass on that," or "No, I'll pass" or any variation of declining the invite that includes the word "pass."

Is this a proper (polite) phrase to use to decline based on the informal method of the invitation? It's also usually a group invitation, not a personal one-on-one invite.

Your friend is rational. “I’ll pass” is a proper expression when you have a bad bridge hand, but insulting when you have received an invitation.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com.

2019, by Judith Martin