Long before I learned about Shakespeare, I learned about racehorses and race tracks.

One of the first things I learned was that racehorse is one word, and so is racecourse, but race track is two words, and racecourse also becomes two words when one attends Bowie Race Course, whereas race track appears as one word in many a racetrack's articles of incorporation.

Why? I don't know. You'll have to ask the lexicographers and copy editors. Some of their edicts defy understanding -- e.g.: "employe" instead of "employee." What next, "paye" for "payee"? "Traine" for "trainee"?

Also learned at a tender age was the fact that I am not smart enough to win at horse betting. I knew about breeding and lineage. I knew how to watch for horses that were being dropped down in class. I studied speed ratings at the feet of those masters of the art, "The Speed Boys," who at one time had every bookmaker in the Ohio Valley bent out of shape.

I leanred about track biases before Andy Beyer was born. I was painfully familiar with the integrity, or lack of it, of various jockeys and trainers.

By the time I was shaving regularly, I had a clear understanding of Jimmy Shevlin's philosophical view of horse racing: "It's a tough way to make an easy living. The less you bet, the more you lose when you win."

It came to pass, therefore, that for the next half-century I read the racing news but never wagered on anything with an even number of legs -- not on horses, nor baseballers, footballers, roundballers or any of their ilk.

Virtually nothing I read about horse racing really affected my life in a practical way, but there was one exception.

When I read a few days ago that Bowie Race Course was about to open, I asked my first wife, "Where is the snow shovel?" She glanced out our picture window at the glorious sunshine that bathed our front lawn in springlike warmth and asked, in her ladylike way, "What in the hell would make you think of a snow shovel on a day like this?"

"I must respectfully decline to answer," I said, "on the grounds that anything I say might tend to suggest that the minute Bowie opens its winter meeting, we'll be hit with the grand-daddy of all snowstorms." DON'T PUMP IT, GENTLE IT

Actually, this weekend's snowstorm wasn't too bad, but it did cause the usual traffic problems.

Some drivers have such a compulsion to gun their engines that they "fishtail" while going uphill. The same habit prevents them from rocking gently out of a rut. Their spinning wheels just dig the rut deeper.

Traffic laws forbid motorists to drive vehicles from which visibility is restricted, but the degree of compliance varies widely. Some drivers clean snow from side windows, some clean back windows, some think all they need is one peephole that provides visibility straight ahead.

A radio broadcaster giving tips on bad weather driving on Saturday told his listeners to pump their brakes, but didn't explain what the word was supposed to mean.

I found myself wondering whether he was doing more good than harm.

Those of his listeners who are good drivers did not need to be told what to do. Those who are not knowledgeable might have been misled by the unexplained order, "Pump your brakes."

When tires have a good grip on the roadway, a driver can stop his vehicle by causing its wheels to stop turning. However, when tires do not have a good grip on the roadway -- for example, on a pavement that has been made slippery by rain, snow, ice, leaves, oil or similar substances -- stopping the wheels from turning will not necessarily cause the vehicle to stop moving.

Instead of moving along on turning wheels, an automobile can slide -- either straight ahead or in some other direction. On slick pavement, the trick is therefore to reduce the rate of wheel turn as such a gradual pace that tires will retain their grip on the pavement and the vehicle will come to a gradual and controlled stop.

One does this by using a feather touch on his brake pedal and letting up on it at the first hint that his wheels may be about to "lock" (stop turning). When traction has been restored between tire and pavement, a gentle touch is reapplied to the brakes, and the process is repeated often enough to bring the vehicle to a gradual halt. This is sometimes called "pumping" the brakes. It is not a very descriptive term.

If you are a knowledgeable driver, you know what "pumping" means and you don't need driving lessons from me or from radio announcers. If you are not knowledgeable, let me explain it this way: In bad weather, accelerate and decelerate gradually. If you drive at a slower pace than you usually do, there will be less need for you to exhibit special skill in stopping.