Replies to recent columns:

When I decried the overuse of sirens and flashing lights by ambulances late at night, Dick Relac of Poolesville thought I shouldn't have been so hasty.

He used to live next to an ambulance company in Northwest, Dick says, and the drivers assigned there used to tell him that motorists are least likely to notice an approaching ambulance between midnight and 3 a.m.

The reasons, of course, are alcohol or fatigue--or a combination. So Dick feels that a few innocent people being awakened by an ambulance siren once in a while is a relatively small price to pay for safety.

When I proposed a master computer file of lost animals, Molly E. White of College Park wrote to say that it wouldn't help.

"Labs are paying $5 per cat," she points out, so that lost cats are less likely than ever to have been picked up by a government animal control official, computer file or no computer file.

And when I told of the scorn heaped on me for pronouncing the famous rum cocktail DIKE-urr-ee, several readers went rushing for the trusty Smith-Corona.

Edgar M. Chase of Clinton writes that Webster is dead wrong to list DACK-urr-ee as the preferred pronunciation. "I suspect that the editorial staff of Webster's is infested with lexicographical libertines," Edgar thundered. "We must mount a crusade to expunge this execrable excrescence."

Louis Tosti Jr. of Arlington gladdened my heart by pointing out that the American Heritage Dictionary lists DIKE-urr-ee first. He also passed along a relevant groaner:

"A doctor stopped at a nearby bar each evening on his way home to have a walnut daiquiri, as was his habit. On this one occasion, the barmaid realized that she was out of walnuts but thought that the doctor would not know the difference if she substituted a hickory nut.

"Sure enough, though, he did, and when he queried her about the strange taste, she was honest enough:

" 'We were out of walnuts,' she said, 'so I made you a hickory daiquiri, doc.' "

And did you know that the original daiquiri was very sweet, not lip-wrinklingly sour, as it is everywhere today? This intelligence comes from Jose G. Roig of Arlington, who is originally from Cuba, as is the daiquiri itself.

"The ingredients of the original daiquiri," according to Jose, "are White Label rum, natural lemon juice (not the acid lime mixture that is used here, please), frappe ice and plenty of sugar."

The reason for the sugar? The southern Cuban city of Daiquiri (for which the drink is named) had several sugar cane mills nearby. "They could afford to mix it very sweet," says Jose.