A well-known District comedian has a pair saying LAUGH.

BRACEM, declares a Maryland orthodontist's.

EZ IM75 (Easy I'm 75) belongs to a Virginia senior citizen.

While not a new phenomenon (they originated in 1937 in Connecticut), personalized license tags are becoming a big item for automobile owners. And they may be even more popular with state governments as revenues pile up in their treasuries.

In Virginia, where there are about 3.4 million registered passenger vehicles, nearly 223,000 cars sport "CommuniPlates," putting that state third (by percentage) in the nation, behind New Hampshire and Connecticut.

"People use them as advertising, for personal messages, quips, political statements," says Paula Kripaitis of Virginia's Motor Vehicles Division. "That's why we don't refer to them as vanity or ego plates."

Virginia's growth in personalized tag sales has been little short of phenomenal. In its first seven years of offering the plates (the program started in 1973-74), Virginia took in $4,039,445. In its last two years, the program took in $3,008,968. Last year there was a 60 percent increase, with $1.85 million in revenue.

In the District of Columbia, the numbers are more stable, with personalized plates on around 6,000 of the 262,000 registered passenger vehicles.

"All the single letters are taken," says Teresa Banks, registrar in the Vehicle Control Division of the D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicles. "Other popular tags include names of fraternities, sororities and cities, R2D2, FOXY, HELLO, MYTOY."

Applications are processed on a one-by-one basis, says Banks, and may include any combination of numerals and letters up to five spaces. "The numbers 1 to 1,250 are 'the mayor's tags,' " and his to assign.

Tags in Maryland and Virginia may have any combination of letters and numbers (other than state-reserved prefixes), with a maximum of six letters and minimum of two; a maximum of six numbers and minimum of two, or any combination of letters and numbers not already taken.

Maryland has 2,338,000 registered passenger vehicles, 27,000-30,000 of them with personalized tags. "The most sought-after tag," says Beverly Rhine, "is GO4IT." Other popular requests in Maryland: OUTLAW, BANDIT, BABY, J R, and DOCTOR.

"The tags may not have any official or police connection," says Rhine, "and we don't allow any sex-oriented or drug-related tags." There are, however, tags saying GOD and LSD (someone's initials), as well as HORNEY (someone's last name) and WHISKY.

Kripaitis says Virginia's tag requests are run through a computer containing over 15,000 unacceptable combinations ("They might be prohibited, difficult to read or already reserved"). Naughty-but-clever tags, Kripaitis notes, are allowed occasionally. "If you have to work to figure it out, you won't be offended when you do, that sort of thing."

Some popular tags in Virginia: LEMON, GASHOG, ITLRUN, MADEIT, STATUS, IMHIP, UFORIC, IDYE4U, FED UP, ERA YEA, IMN XDC (I'm in ecstasy), KIDSRN (Kids are in), ET LIVES, 1 2MANY, BELT UP, VOTE (belongs to a registrar of voters).

In Maryland, revenue from the plates is divided basically like this: The first $150,000 for medical, dental, legal, nursing and pharmaceutical scholarship programs; the next $200,000 for a distinguished scholars program; over $350,000, the general fund.

Virginia's CommuniPlate revenue goes into the state's highway fund for maintenance and new-road construction.

The District channels its personalized tag revenues into an appropriations fund used for "other D.C. government activities."

In other states, revenues go to environmental projects (California), political parties (Indiana), tourism programs, prison systems (Alabama), even to help save endangered species (Washington state).

In all jurisdictions, including the District, Maryland and Virginia, prospective tags are checked very carefully. Occasionally, however, a problem tag gets through.

"We had one case," says Kripaitis, where people complained about a tag that said HITLER. We spoke to the owner and he agreed to change it. To ADOLF."

In California, when there was objection to HITLER plates, the car-owner finally gave in, and had his plates changed to GSA1. He offered no explanation.