Advice Columns

Miss Manners: A shrug instead of an answer is sign of disrespect

Universal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Shrugs have always been poor manners, or at least that is what I was taught. When asked a question, you should give a proper verbal answer.

My stepson has now started to shrug in response to things, and then actually to say “Shrug” as his verbal response. I have not corrected him, and he does not mean to give offense. I’m just puzzled.

If you verbally say “Shrug” as an indication of your disinterest/not caring about a question, is that considered a proper verbal response?

By the way, the statement of nonverbals seems to be catching among the teenage generation. I’ve also heard “Yawn” to indicate boredom and “Gulp” to indicate trouble. Maybe it’s all that texting.

GENTLE READER: It might be an even older phenomenon, namely comic books.

The rudeness is not the fact of the shrug being nonverbal — presumably you do not have a court reporter handy who needs oral responses — but rather that it shows disrespect. This is true however the shrug is conveyed.

As parents, you or your husband should talk to your stepson and tell him that this is not acceptable behavior. Miss Manners recommends avoiding the phrases “Kapow!” and “Bam!”

Relationship leftovers

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had a fight with my girlfriend and we haven’t spoken since the week before Thanksgiving. She left a Christmas gift at my house today. I do not want to continue our relationship. What should I do with the gift?

GENTLE READER: Return it, with a polite note of thanks and the explanation that under the circumstances, you do not feel you can take advantage of her generosity. Not returning it would signal a possible willingness to return, Miss Manners must warn you.

Trouble with texters

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a director at a church weekday program. We had a training last night at work for the faculty. After the meeting, it was brought to my attention by another teacher that texting was being done during the meeting.

I am not sure what my approach to confronting the employees should be. I am upset that they did not feel it was important enough to give me their undivided attention.

Please advise on this matter. Our policy states that because we are a licensed day care facility, we will not use our phones at work. Each employee signs the policy at the beginning of the year. The meeting and training was fun, and it was on the subject of “cooking with children” in the classroom.

GENTLE READER: Reminding people of your policy at the beginning of a training session is not out of place. But Miss Manners feels that your particular circumstances make the task easier than usual. Pass around an empty soup pot, and ask the trainees to deposit their phones into it. In addition to enforcing the policy, you will be reminding your students that it is not difficult to imagine what might go wrong when bringing children, open flames and electronics into close proximity.

Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

© Universal Uclick 12/24