You may have seen this message here before.

I wrote it as 1950 approached.

I wrote it as 1960 approached.

I wrote it as 1970 approached.

I write it again as 1980 approaches.

The message is that if you want to be technical about the matter, we are not about to begin a new decade. We are about to begin the final year of the old decade.

Wilson Velloso of Bethesda explains it this way: "There was no year 0, so we must begin counting from the year 1."

Wilson recalls the heated controversy that raged as 1899 came to an end. Was that the end of a century? Was Jan. 1, 1900, the beginning of a new century?

At the time, most people thought the answers wre "yes," just as many now consider Jan. 1, 1980, the beginning of a new decade.

And, as Wilson puts it, "I realize that this letter will not make the slightest difference. After all, when the media decided to repeat a silly term ad nauseam, it becomes accepted, no matter how wrong it is."

Now wait a goldarned minute, Wilson. All of us in the news media do not speak with one voice. I have seen many articles that supported your view. They said the first century ran from the year 1 through the year 100, the second century ran from 101 through 200, and so forth. So the first decade must have run from the year 1 through the year 10, and the second decade must have run from the year 11 through the year 20.

It should be noted at this point that a century can also be considered "any period of 100 years" (e.g.: from 1776 to 1876), and a decade can similarly refer to any 10-year period.

However, in the present context I think it is clear that we are talking about "the" decade and "the" century rather than just any 10-year or 100-year period. And in this context the zero years are the final years of decades and centuries, not the starting years.

We can accurately say that in a few days we will see the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s. And that's something many of us will be willing to say with no great sense of regret. In fact, it might be a good idea to skip the 80s entirely and go right on to the 90s. By that time, the world may be a more pleasant place in which to live. OUR FRIENDS THE RUSSIANS

One of the things that have made life unpleasant in recent decades has been the undeviating hostility of the Soviet Union toward the United States.

From time to time, it has suited the Russians to cooperate with us on short-term projects of strictly limited scope.

They have tried to get us to agree to arms limitations and other proposals they considered in their interest. They have even voted to support us in the United Nations.

However, I can recall no instance in which they supported us with genuine warmth, friendship or enthusiasm. Even as they cast a grudging vote for our position, their propaganda machine was ascribing base motives to us, maligning us, casting suspicion on everything we did and maliciously disseminating lies about us.

If the Senate never approves that new SALT agreement the USSR wants so badly, the consequences will be serious for both sides. But the blame for that will rest squarely on our two-faced friends. Ever since Stalin's day, it has been soviet policy to stir up trouble for us. Where we already had a problem, their strategy was to make it worse. Why would any senator be eager to enter into a mutual trust agreement with a "friend" like that? 'TWAS EVER THUS

A recent news story told of people selling their bridgwork to raise money. Our story reminded Dr. Philip G. Rudin of Alexandria of a young man who came to his office when he was practicing dentistry in Pittsburgh many years ago.

This young man asked Dr. Rudin to remove his fixed bridge -- "a beautiful piece of work." He needed money.

Dr. Rudin explained that only a portion of the amount that had been paid for the bridge could be recovered because most of the fee had been paid for the dentist's skill, not for the materials used. But the young man insisted he needed $20 to tide him over until his father got to town.

Who was his father? The young man named a prominent dentist who was due in Pittsburgh the following week to lecture to the local dental society. Dr. Rudin couldn't bring himself to destroy a beautiful piece of dental work, so he said, "I know who your father is. I'll lend you the $20."

A few days later, Dr. Rudin discovered that the young man had "worked his way through the building, from top to bottom, and had used the same story to rip off every dentist in the building for $20.

And at last report, the bridge was still intact.