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Miss Manners: Using shrug to answer is disrespectful

Dear Miss Manners: Shrugs have always been poor manners; at least that’s 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 use the word “shrug” as his verbal response. I haven’t corrected him, and he doesn’t mean to give offense. I’m just puzzled. If you use the word “shrug” to indicate 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” used 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 spoken responses – but rather that it shows disrespect. This is true no matter how the shrug is conveyed.

As parents, you or your husband should talk with your stepson and tell him that this is not acceptable behavior. Miss Manners recommends not using words such as “kapow” and “bam.”

Enforcing no-phone policy

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

Our policy states that because we are a licensed day care facility, we won’t use our phones at work. Each employee signs the policy at the beginning of the year. The subject of the training was “cooking with children,” and the meeting was fun.

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 proximity.

This column was co-written by Judith Martin’s son, Nicholas Ivor Martin. Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, or to her email,