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Dear Miss Manners: A good female friend of mine collects cow things, and over the years I have given her cow earrings, cow calendars, etc. She and her new husband are both into gourmet cooking.

It was not the first wedding for either, and not wanting to send the usual mundane wedding gift, I shopped for something unique that would reflect the interests of both and be memorable. Cow paraphernalia has become popular in recent years, and in a special gift shop I found a good quality casserole dish with a picture of a smiling cow and the words "Cow Pie" emblazoned on the bottom. It was not cheap, but the whimsy of the moment, and my knowledge of the recipients' interests and (I thought) strong sense of humor, caused me to purchase it and give it as a wedding present.My wife and I heard not a word, but thought little of it, since we know they are both busy with their jobs and starting a new household.

Then we saw them at an annual white-elephant party given by mutual friends. Imagine our shock when someone began to open a package and she leaned forward saying, "I hope you're not offended," as the wrapping came off our cow-pie casserole.

We were stunned.

The following day I called her at work. She said her husband had felt highly insulted by our gift - after opening "gifts of crystal and silver, and money to put toward buying our hot tub, suddenly someone gave us a cow pie."

I explained the reasons behind the gift, saying I might have risked overstepping the limits of good taste in trying to find a memorable present, but it was done in innocence and without malice. I felt that her taking it to a white-elephant exchange that she knew we would be attending was vindictive and rude, and was intended to hurt.

My wife traded for the cow-pie dish at the party and took it home. To obliterate any possible gossip about bad form, we sent some generic silver-plate candlesticks to replace the disgraced casserole dish.

We have shown the casserole to several acquaintances before relating its story, asking if they would feel insulted at receiving it as a wedding present. So far, no one has felt it was even in poor taste, much less an insult.

Was that sort of gift inappropriate? What about the actions of the recipients? Would it be appropriate to serve the ex-recipients a meal from the cow-pie dish if and when they are ever invited over for a meal? Wouldn't that be fun?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners thinks you have had quite enough fun with your cow-pie casserole. Stop polling people who have no emotional connection to the situation, and don't even think about serving dinner out of it.

For that matter, you can stop having fun with Miss Manners by asking her if a cow-pie casserole is an appropriate wedding present. Haven't you already found out the answer? And do you expect her to suggest to others that correct wedding presents include silver place settings, crystal vases, ice buckets and scatological tableware?

That is not to say that she doesn't believe your plea of innocence and agree that your explanation and apology ought to be graciously accepted. Demonstrating their distaste on an occasion where they knew you would be present was not nice.

The most socially adroit person in this story seems to be your wife. Trading for the offending dish was a stroke of diplomacy. Perhaps Miss Manners can persuade her to tell you that enough is enough.

Dear Miss Manners: Suppose one is extending a written invitation to a married couple, and one does not know whether the wife changed her surname.

I believe there is a duty to inquire so that the invitation may be properly addressed. My colleague argues that one may simply assume the surname was changed and address the invitation to Mr. and Mrs. In 1993, what is the proper etiquette?

Gentle Reader: In 1993, you can safely assume that anyone whom you address incorrectly will feel insulted. This was equally true in 1893, Miss Manners might point out, but now there are more choices to make, and wrong guesses are taken as deeply degrading opinions, rather than mistakes.

It is true that those who take advantage of the era of choice should have a degree of tolerance for ignorance of their idiosyncratic wishes. But every era requires hosts to know the names of their guests before issuing them invitations.

Dear Miss Manners: A good friend opened a home accessories business with one of her friends. I am happy for them and I congratulated my friend, but I would like to do more.

Would a party with spouses, her business partner and some of their closest friends, be appropriate? What about a gift?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners appreciates your kindly feelings, as no doubt your friends do. But for heaven's sake, please, do not exercise them by inventing one more occasion for a shower. The world does not need that.

Take your friend out to a luxurious lunch. Tell her how thrilled you are at her success. Tell all your other friends how wonderful her shop is. Refurnish your house there, at full price.

But do not attempt to turn a commercial venture into a personal milestone ranking with a birth or a marriage.