The other night, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishers gave a party at the Columbia Country Club to celebrate "Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century," Claude Denson Pepper's new autobiography (with Hays Gorey). Marie Arana Ward, HBJ senior editor, introduced him as Senator Pepper. The subsequent speakers all dutifully spoke of their great admiration for the 87-year-old Sen. Pepper.

Now they -- and everybody else -- know that Pepper hasn't been a senator for 37 years, after he was defeated in the 1950 campaign against George Smathers.

Since 1963, the Pepper many call the salt of the earth has been a congressman, leading the fight for compulsory health insurance, preservation of Social Security and other icons of the aged.

Even so, the congressman is still addressed as "Senator."

Rochelle Jones, his spokeswoman, says, "Well, I soon found out after I came to work here, that everybody -- in Florida and in Washington -- calls him 'Senator' -- and he likes it. It's a general courtesy that people are called by the higher title, if they've had more than one."

Member of Congress Pepper has been called other things, as recounted in the book's description of the infamous "Red Pepper" election: "One speech from the Smathers campaign of 1950, aimed at audiences of 'rednecks' in northern Florida, has become a classic of American political lore ... It went like this:

" 'Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert?

" 'Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was a thespian in wicked New York.

" 'Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.' "

Pepper goes on to write that after the text first appeared in 1950 in Time magazine, "Smathers has denied that he or anyone in his campaign ever made such a speech ... George Smathers should be able to come up with many worse incidents to disavow."

Pepper isn't the only one to be called by titles he doesn't currently hold. William Webster, recently appointed head of the CIA, is still called Judge Webster though he left the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1978 after five years, when he became FBI director. Earlier he was a judge of the Eastern Missouri U.S. District Court from 1971 to 1973. So he was FBI director two years longer than he was a judge.

A famous earlier example was the late Howard W. Smith, U.S. representative from Virginia's 8th district from 1930 to 1967 and, for years, chairman of the House Rules Committee. Through it all, he was still called "Judge Smith," dating back to the days he presided at the Corporation Court of the City of Alexandria (1922-28) and as judge of Virginia's 16th Circuit Court (1928-30).

The late Averell Harriman, who held posts as secretary of commerce and ambassador to the Soviet Union and Great Britain, was often addressed as "Governor," a title he earned the hard way, by election in New York (1955-59).

Some say that the Duke of Windsor was always called "Your Majesty" (a term befitting only a reigning king or queen) by his servants, instead of the correct "Your Highness," long after he had abdicated the British throne because of "the woman I love."

John Quincy Adams, a one-term president, was subsequently a congressman, representing the Plymouth district for 17 years. Sarah Hage at the Adams archives says, however, that there is no evidence to show he was called "President" while he was a congressman.

On the other hand, at Mount Vernon, curator Christine Meadows says that "George Washington was more often called "General" than "President," especially after retirement. That was also true of Dwight Eisenhower, and I believe, Andrew Jackson. Military titles, especially general, tend to persist."

In the Foreign Service, the rule is "once an ambassador, always an ambassador" -- the title is for life.

For instance, William Bodde Jr., now deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, is called "Ambassador Bodde," though his immediately previous post was as consul general to Frankfurt, West Germany. The title of ambassador comes from his appointment in 1980-82 as envoy to Fiji, Tonga and Tuvalu. At the same time, he was also minister to Kiribati.