The readers ask, the columnist answers:

From Herb McDermott of Northwest: "I made the biggest mistake of my life the other day. I had to go to a business meeting in Germantown very early in the morning. It was over by 8:30. So I got onto [Interstate Rte.] 270 to come back downtown. Incredible! I've never seen such aggressive lane-changing. These drivers find holes that a pro football running back wouldn't even think about. Anyway, my question has to do with signaling. I was in the left lane, and I noticed a guy in the lane immediately to my right, and slightly ahead of me. He kept glancing in the side-view mirror, so I knew he wanted to cut into my lane. Finally, he did -- but he didn't signal until he had started the lane-change. I know this is unsafe. Is it also illegal?"

There is nothing on the books that prohibits half-late signaling as such, Herb. What's on the books are catch-all laws. They prohibit either improper signaling or illegal lane-changing. The law hasn't felt the need to single out the dangerous habit you witnessed.

However, maybe it should. I've seen more near-crunches as a result of half-late signaling than I care to think about. I can almost hear the guy who cut in front of you saying, after the crash, "Hey, but I signaled." Sure you did, buddy -- too little and too late.

From Alice Evans of Northeast: "Every day, I leave my office at HUD and go to fetch my car from a garage a couple of blocks away. I always pass the same man. He stands on the corner just north of HUD, and he talks to himself. It's as if he's having a religious service, but he's the preacher and the congregation, all rolled into one. He says, 'God Almighty, lift up your hands, and let there be light!' And then, in a different voice, he answers himself, 'Yes, father! Yes! Yes! Let there be light!' I don't stick around to hear the whole sermon, because I think the man is a nut, not a real preacher. I'm curious about who he is, and whether the police know about him."

The police are aware of him, Alice, a spokesman tells me. But they've never had any reason to arrest him.

The man is a street person. The police don't know his name. But unlike many members of that tribe, The HUD Preacher never drinks in public, or steals, or creates a traffic hazard by taking a catnap in the middle of Seventh Street. Since it's a free country, say the police, he can "preach" all he likes, wherever he likes.

From Harry Shapiro of Northwest: "My mother came down from New England to visit last weekend, for the first time since I moved here in September. She thought I lived in Washington. But everywhere we went -- the National Gallery, the Air and Space Museum, out for dinner in Georgetown -- we overheard somebody pronounce the name of the city 'Warshington.' This was a big revelation to my mother. She had always claimed that true civilization exists only in the Boston area. However, she had started to believe there was a little civilization here, too. Now, after hearing so many 'Warshingtons,' she's convinced that everybody here is a bumpkin because nobody here can pronounce the name of his own city. Where did this awful mangling of our city's name come from?"

It came from the state immediately to our north, Harry -- the great state of Murralin.

Murralinners have always had trouble with any word that contains a soft "A" or a round "O." For instance, the largest city in the state is Bawlamer. For another instance, the name of the newspaper you're reading is the Peau-st.

I can understand why this would be irritating to a confirmed New Englander, and why a recent arrival like you would be surprised and defensive. But you'll stop noticing the Warshingtons after a while, Harry. I promise. Meanwhile, you might tell Mom that, last time I checked, they didn't speak with pristine purity around Haaahvud Yaaahd, either.

From Marie Fontaine, home town unknown:

"As a long-time volunteer at several distribution centers, I have often been dismayed at the donation of soiled, useless items as well as so many needing repair. What about the shirt with all its buttons snipped off? Why are people so unwilling to mend rips or replace buttons? It seems to me that that would be the real contribution. By giving such things as described above, the donor is showing contempt for the needy recipients, and is insulting the volunteers who handle and sort the items."

I'm sure some of the unfixed rips and unsewed buttons are unintentional, Marie. A lot of givers probably figure that collecting agencies employ armies of seamstresses who will be delighted to pick up a needle and a thread and put used clothing back in good shape. However, that's not the way it works. It wouldn't be cost-effective for Goodwill or Amvets to spend half an hour fixing up an old shirt. So shirts without buttons tend to be thrown away, not brought back to life.

My real fear, Marie, is that buttonless, filthy and hole-y shirts are the "gifts" of donors who are more interested in the tax deduction they can claim than in whether the shirts are in any kind of shape to help a needy person. If true, that would be quite a commentary on the state of generosity, wouldn't it?