The outlying precincts still remain to be heard from, but it appears that you readers strongly back me in my determination to quote people exactly the way they speak.

"Three cheers for your column of March 14 !" writes Arturo Frias of Arlington. "A quote is a quote is a quote. If you tamper with what's inside, you undo your mission as a journalist."

"So what if someone sounds bad?" asks Virginia Metzger of Reston. "If they said it, they said it. People who are quoted always think they sound worse than they do, anyway."

There's one footnote that needs to be added. Carol Bream of Frederick and several callers asked why journalists don't use the word "sic" when an error is contained within quotation marks and the journalist knows it's an error.

Many journalists do use "sic," of course. But I avoid it because it has a pedantic ring to it. I'd use "sic" if I were quoting the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the future of the country could depend on the accuracy of the quote. But if I were quoting a basketball player, or a fireman, or a child, or anyone who's just plain folks, to use "sic" is to appear to be giving language lessons. That's a little too nose-in-the-air for my blood.

Best story about the dangers of quoting 'em exactly the way they said it comes from Lynne M. Phelps of Dumfries, Va.

"About a year ago," Lynne writes, "I was working as the town clerk here in Dumfries and was asked by one of the police officers to type up a transcript of a tape he had made the evening before."

The officer had made a routine traffic stop, but the driver got furious and bit the officer on the arm. The officer was told by his superiors to dictate a memo describing everything exactly as it had happened.

"I put on the headset and began typing," Lynne writes. "The language quoted by the officer, needless to say, was not what I was accustomed to and I reddened considerably when I encountered a particularly offensive phrase on the tape . . . .

"I pleadingly asked if it was necessary to type exactly what I had heard on the tape . . . . 'Type exactly what is on the tape,' the officer instructed . . . . I did, and when finished, I handed him the typed transcript for his approval.

"Laughter filled the office. I had misspelled the phrase!

"So I'm now remembered in this tiny town as the clerk who can't spell dirty words!!"