A Scud is a Scud is a Scud. But why not any other name? Is the Soviet-made Iraqi missile some sort of acronym, like laser? An onomatopoeia, like buzz, or chickadee? And why does it sound so ... unlovely?

Because our side named it.

Thirty years ago when the Soviets first introduced these missiles, nobody knew what to call them. Certainly the Soviets weren't going to tell us. (Even if they did, it would be something unwieldy like "The Gmerszchk.") The U.S. military had to classify the missile, and so, in its unimaginative way, called it the SS-1.

Then NATO affixed its code name: Scud. While a spokesman for NATO in Brussels yesterday denied there is a deliberate effort to make the hostile weaponry sound silly or unflattering, the names they choose would seem to belie this.

Take the Soviet missiles, for instance. These include the Scud, the Sapwood, the Scrag and the Spanker. The Soviet fighter aircraft begin with F's. The Iraqis are using Soviet Floggers and Fulcrums and Flankers and Fencers and Foxbats, according to Henry Dodds, editor of Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review in London. There are also Frogfoots, Fitters, Flagons, Fiddlers, Firebars and something called the "Fishbed."

The NATO names for the Soviet cruise missiles include Starfish, Shaddocks, Sandboxes, Sunburns and Shipwrecks. The Soviet surface-to-air missiles -- which the U.S. Defense Department calls SAM-1, SAM-2 etc. -- are G-names in the NATO lexicon. The SAM-7 is the Grail. The SAM-13 is the Gopher. The helicopters are Hinds, Hips, Hooks, Halos, Helixes, Havocs, Hokums and Hormones.

Hokums? Hormones?

"There must be either humorous or twisted minds in the NATO community," said Dodds. "But mostly, the names are chosen to be easy to remember."

Could they also be deliberately unflattering?

"I don't think they are unflattering," said Dodds.

No? Compare these, then, to the American-named American weaponry. Our fighter aircraft are Hornets, Phantoms, Falcons, Eagles, Tomcats, Freedom Fighters. Our helicopters are Cobras, Apaches, Knights, Super Sea Stallions, Blackhawks and Chinooks. Our missiles are the Tomahawks and Minutemen and Peacekeepers and Pershings. And our SAMs -- surface-to-air missiles -- include Hawks, Patriots and Rapiers.

Now, back to Scud.

The name, according to Dodds, was chosen first of all because Scud starts with "S," which stands for "surface-to-surface." And second, because it is appropriate: "Scud" means "to move or run swiftly, as if driven forward," according to Webster's 3rd New International Dictionary.

Indeed, we find scuds in literature: "following her in a scud came the servants and helpers -- Virginia Woolf." And: "a brisk wind sending small white clouds scudding across the ... sky -- Osbert Lancaster."

But, when an arrow "scuds," it generally suggests flying "too high and off the proper course."

And, there are, of course, the alternative meanings for scud, listed in the dictionary a couple lines below Virginia Woolf: "dirt, refuse, probably a blend of scum and mud" or "the matter that is worked out of hides or skins in scudding." And there's also the similar-sounding word "scut," meaning "a contemptible fellow."

The U.S. military used to have a missile that was the equivalent of the Soviet Scud. It isn't in service anymore, according to Jane's Information Group in London, and was never called a Scud, you can be sure.

It was ... Honest John.

While "Scud" is an official NATO designation, the other Iraqi missile, the FROG, is a U.S. Defense Department acronym that has now become the official name. It stands for "Free Rocket Over Ground."

"All this is a nightmare for a military analyst," said Henry Dodds at Jane's. "There are four names for everything. The U.S. military name, the NATO name, the Soviet name and the Soviet nickname."

The Soviet nickname?

"Right. Like, their self-propelled artillery systems are called after flowers. There's the Carnation and the Hyacinthus. It's Giatsint in Russian. We only know about half of the Soviet names."

Sometimes things get renamed -- the MX missile, for instance, was renamed the Peacekeeper by President Reagan. The Thunderbolt II, an aircraft used for antitank operations, was nicknamed the "Warthog" by our troops because it's bumpy and lumpy and kind of ugly, and the name stuck.

Sometimes things get misidentified. A Scud is a Scud is a Scud, apparently, unless it's an Al-Hussein -- a newer variation of the old-style Scud. It's been Al-Hussein missiles that the Iraqis have fired at Israel and Saudia Arabia this past week -- but they've been "Scuds" to us, since the media have locked onto that name.

"It's a minor difference if you are the receiving end of the missiles," said Dodds, "but from an analyst's point of view, it's an important distinction."

British tailoring remains in demand, according to David Mangan Jr., the international editor of the Oil Daily, in the Jan. 18 issue.

Mangan describes having dinner at the home of a senior British diplomat in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia, on Jan. 16. He wondered aloud to the man: Why were the British soldiers at his hotel wearing green camouflage fatigues instead of beige desert ones? Years ago, the diplomat said, the British concluded they would never be fighting another desert war. The supplies of desert camouflage were sold off, and the British troops have been stuck in dark green.

Which country did they sell to?

"You won't believe it," said the diplomat, "but we sold the uniforms to Iraq."