There are generally three ways to learn computer lingo: take a course in computers, buy an introductory book on the subject--or learn it the hard way, by osmosis.

Now here's a fourth. I've drawn up a list of the most common computer terms and abbreviations, the ones you find in most ads and hear in computer stores. Here they are:

* ASCII: The abbreviation for the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It's a commonly used code that enables a computer to "understand" what you mean when you type in information on a computer keyboard in the form of letters, numbers and other characters.

* BASIC: The abbreviation for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. It's one of a number of computer languages used to program a computer to perform tasks. Other examples are PASCAL and COBOL. Each is designed to perform certain kinds of tasks better than others.

* Bit: Short for binary digit, the smallest piece of information that a computer can handle. A bit is either one or zero, hence the "binary" tag for the system. Most personal computers are eight-bit, meaning that they have eight individual bits clumped together. When the computer is given information to remember, it translates that information into an internal code of ones and zeros and then accordingly sets the bits in its bit clumps (see "byte" below), thereby storing the information for future use.

* Byte: Usually a group of eight bits, although there are four-bit bytes and, according to the Computer Dictionary & Handbook, 16-bit bytes, too.

* Chip: An electronic, integrated circuit on a wafer slice made most often of silicon. Chips are the backbone of a computer's memory system.

* CPU: The abbreviation for Central Processing Unit. It's the computer's "control center" that, among other things, handles a user's instructions and raw data (see "input" below) and sees that everything is properly distributed within the memory.

* Disk (floppy and hard): A round disk, usually about the size of a 45 rpm record, on which information is stored magnetically. It can be either metal or soft plastic (hence "floppy").

* Disk Drive: Roughly analogous to a record player, a disk drive stores or retrieves information on disks at the behest of a computer.

* Hardware: The physical pieces of computer equipment (see "software" below).

* Input: The information you provide to a computer so that it can accomplish a task. This includes programs and raw data.

* Joystick: An accessory that enables you to provide input to a computer using a stick that can be tilted in any direction. It resembles the joysticks of World War II fighters, hence the name, and is most often used in the home for game playing.

* K: Always uppercase, K stands for 1,024 bytes. It is used to describe how much memory a computer has--e.g. 48K, 64K, etc.

* Menu: A "table of contents" that appears on your monitor when you use a computer program.

* Modem: Short for modulator/demodulator, it translates computer-generated information into audio signals that can be transmitted over the telephone. The modem can also translate such signals it receives back into electrical impulses that the computer can understand.

* Monitor (or screen): Either a television set or a specially designed video screen on which the computer displays your instructions and its actions and results.

* Peripheral: An accessory for a computer, such as a joystick or printer.

* RAM: The abbreviation for Random Access Memory. This is the part of the computer's memory that stores the input and the results of its labors. When you turn off your computer, however, the RAM is obliterated for that work session.

* ROM: The abbreviation for Read Only Memory. This part of the computer's memory contains the permanent instructions on how it is to perform its basic tasks. Without it, the computer would be useless. These instructions are not lost when the computer is turned off.

* Software: The programs that instruct a computer how to perform certain types of tasks, like balancing your checkbook or playing a game. Either you buy them in a store or you create your own, using one of the computer languages like BASIC.

* Word Processing: Using a computer to perform typing tasks. You can buy computers that are "dedicated" word processors (they were designed to do that task only) or buy a program that will instruct your computer how to perform those tasks.