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NO MATTER HOW IMMENSE, OLD DICTIONARIES NEED TO GO

Sir: Why did you have to be so mean and superior with that reader who asked about the meaning of "triage"? You said she needed a new dictionary. Well, I have a good 1966 dictionary with more than 1,700 pages, and "triage" isn't in it either.

- B. E. R.

Answer: It's because I'm so mean and superior, I guess. So let me tell you that you need a new dictionary, too. You think the language is standing still, or what? That reader can get along without knowing what triage is a lot better than she can get along without a current dictionary. Hers was even older than yours. Shame on you both.

Sir: This is in regard to the reader who asked why we tip after the fact if "TIP" means "to insure promptness."

TIP came into practice during the era of Pullman cars in the late 1800s. A gentleman boarding the sleeper car sought out the porter of his section and gave him a tip to ensure prompt attention to all his needs during his overnight stay.

- Frances S.

Answer: There, now. I knew somebody smart would come up with the right answer, even if I didn't.

Sir: A headline in my newspaper said the O.J. Simpson jurors were "told to prepare for sequestration." What, pray tell, is going to be done to those poor jurors?

- Vanessa A.

Answer: Nothing as bad as you think, I think. It's true that sequestration means authorization to take a defendant's property into custody, but it also means the act of sequestering, which can mean simply setting apart or segregating. While you were worrying about them, no doubt they were having a high old time being sequestered. Wouldn't you?

Sir: Can you explain why, in military language, everything associated with food is called "mess"? Mess kit, mess tent, officers' mess and so on. Does it reflect soldiers' assessment of the cuisine?

- Clark M.

Answer: A soldier's food is jolly good, or so they told us back when I was an enlisted man. And you could usually get something from the Post Exchange to kill the taste. No, the word "mess" comes from the old Latin term meaning the course at a meal. No criticism intended. Bite your tongue, sir.

PUZZLE OF THE WEEK, put by Pete V.M.:

"I was looking to buy some duct tape, and noticed a store sign saying they had a special on `duck tape.' Since then I have noticed more instances of `duck tape.' Is this tape more suitable for sticking to feathers, or is our language now for the birds?"