The ad in the bus is aimed at deadbeat dads. It urges them to pay their child support. No beef there.

But in the process, the ad fractures English. Big beef there.

Here's the wording that had me reaching for a pad during a recent ride:

"Nothing's more important than your child. Support them in every way."

Yes, the antecedent of "them" is "child." "Child" is singular and "them" is plural.

Seventh-grade English teachers would leap upon this error and stab it to death with very sharp red pencils. Either both of these words have to be plural or both have to be singular.

But we all know that, in modern life and modern English, this error happens often and isn't even considered a flub by some. Why has a mis-usage come close to becoming accepted? Partly laziness, partly convenience and partly the awful sound of the correct construction.

Laziness because it's easier to say "them" in a situation where it's obvious that you're talking about more than one child. After all, the Maryland Child Support Enforcement Program wouldn't have bought ads in Washington's buses if only one child were going without support payments.

Convenience because, to write the deadbeat dad thought accurately, you'd need to rephrase the first piece of it or use "him" in the second piece instead of "them." More shoe leather than most of us are willing to exert.

As for the awful sound, the ear hates it if you use "him" when you mean both him and her. The dictionary still says "him" is the literate way to include both sexes. But it sounds tilted, stilted, wilted.

So out of the barn we trot Levey's prize heifer of a solution: "herm."

"Herm" is a blend of "her" and "him." It doesn't offend all the hers by forcing them to fit under a tent labeled "him." It's a brand-new word for an age-old problem. It works in a gender-free, misunderstanding-free way.

A few samples, to get you in the mood:

"Each player goes back three spaces and loses herm's turn."

"The American voter hates the campaign finance system. Let's change it for herm."

And, of course, "Nothing's more important than your child. Support herm in every way."

Reactions? I'm at 202-334-7276 (phone), 202-334-5150 (fax), c/o The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071 (mail) and leveyb@washpost.com (e-mail).

SEND A KID TO CAMP

Our annual summer fund-raising campaign is out of the blocks. We are aiming at a record in 1999. That might cause some to recommend that Levey have his noggin examined.

Why raise money for children at a time of year when readers have kid-related expenses in their own families? And why hope for a record? Doesn't Levey know that Washington won't support local causes?

To point one:

The joy of Send a Kid to Camp (besides sending poor children to the mountains for part of the summer) is that people step up, year after year, even when they need bucks to send their own kids to camp.

Some of my favorite letters are written late at night, by parents who have just paid a stack of bills. They send our campaign a few dollars while they're at it, just because.

To point two:

If Washington doesn't care about local causes, why is Send a Kid to Camp the most successful campaign of its kind in the United States? Why have we bumped up the average annual bottom line by 100 percent in the last four years alone? It isn't smoke and mirrors, gang. It's caring.

Let's keep a Washington tradition alive. The kids are counting on you. Many thanks.

It's the first of eight Wednesdays in our 1999 camp campaign, so it's the first of eight opportunities for McCormick & Schmick's customers to pad our piggy bank.

If you eat lunch at an M&S Seafood Restaurant today and you order chocolate truffle cake, every cent of the cost goes to our Send a Kind to Camp campaign. Same if you order filet of sole parmesan at the M&S Grill.

This is the third year we've joined with M&S to raise camp funds in this way. We're hoping for more great success. It all depends on your generosity -- and your appetite.

M&S Seafood Restaurants are at 17th and K streets NW and Reston Town Center. The M&S Grill is at 13th and F streets NW.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of June 7: $22,959.85.

CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.