Here we go into the final quarter of the year, the Lower 40 of 1999, if you will. It's a time of pumpkins and nippy breezes, of piled-up leaves and sweaters. It should be the best season of the year (and if you care to believe a certain comics page columnizer, it is).

But Norman Jenson, of Rockville, feels that fall needs a name-lift. He has embarked on a crusade to call this season by its more formal name, autumn.

"Here we have a word that's distinct, aristocratic, even a bit exciting, like autumn weather," says Norman. "But everyone seems so eager to call this season `fall` because that word is shorter and snappier.

"I don't see why we need to be in such a hurry. Let's go for two languid syllables instead of one rushed one."

Let's also go for a name that isn't hooked to just one aspect of the season, Norman says.

"When we call this season `fall,' we're taking note only of falling leaves," Norman argues. "Do we call summer `swim'? Do we call winter `blizzard'?"

When I pointed out to Norman that we call spring "spring" because flowers spring forth then, he was unmoved.

"I'm going to come up with a two-syllable alternative to that one, too, Bob," he promised. "I just need six more months to think about it."

Until that blessed moment, let's hear Norman on the attributes of the word "autumn:"

* "It's unambiguous. If I say `fall,' you might think I'm talking about what happens if you trip. If I say `autumn,' no two ways about it.

* "It's pretty. Whenever some businessman wants to bring a new shampoo to market, he calls it `Amber Autumn,' or something like that. I will bet you that the word `fall' has never been used to name a shampoo.

* "It's delicate. To say the word `autumn,' you need to relax and let the word flow from your lips. But you can bark or snap the word `fall,' and a lot of people do.

* "It immediately tells you where someone is from. If I hear `ottom,' I know the person is from New England. If I hear `awdum,` I know we're dealing with the Bronx. With `fall,` geography can be hard to pinpoint.

* "It's classy. I was reading some college catalogs the other day. One of them talked about the `fall semester.' The next one talked about the `autumn semester.' Which school sounded less like a stamping plant?"

Since he lobbies for a living, Norman is preparing to seek congressional sponsors for a bill demanding universal autumn-ness in these United States.

"This won't have any of the political thorns that we always run into when Capitol Hill debates daylight savings time. And it won't raise any partisan hackles," he said. "I think it has a heck of a chance."

I think Capitol Hill will be so busy trying to ruin Social Security that autumn-ness will never come to a vote. Still, Norman's idea can't be dismissed. We do need more beauty. We do need more class.

But if Washington is the land of compromise (and you know it is), here's what I suspect would emerge from the Hill:


That strokes the "fall" advocates as well as the other guys. And it's oh-so-accurate. To say "fautumn" is to deliver the ultimate bottom line to a Washington political fight: "We fought 'em, and this is the best we could get."

By the way, Webster doesn't think that "autumn" is such great shakes. Webster's second definition of the word is: "a period of maturity or incipient decline."

The Hill may be able to live with maturity. But incipient decline? That implies polls that are going south and talk show producers who don't call as often as they once did.

Sorry, but for these folks, "fall" is a better bet. It implies that if you do that, you can rise again. The town is full of people who have.

She found it on the street in Hyattsville in 1970 -- a high school class ring in a silver cardboard box. She tossed box and ring into a drawer, promising herself that she'd try to reunite the ring with its owner some day.

But life has a way of overwhelming such good intentions. So it wasn't until last month, 29 years later, that the woman rediscovered the ring. She was moving, and she figured it was time to finish what she had meant to start. She called The Bob Levey Ring Owners Discovery Service.

The proprietor said he'd be glad to try to help. So the woman in Hyattsville mailed the ring to me.

It's a Northwood High School ring from the class of 1969. It's gold with a red stone. The ring is engraved with three initials. The first two are "L" and "C." The third might be "R" and might be "A" -- I'm afraid my eyes can't quite do teeny gothic script any more.

If you can prove to me that you're L.C.R. or L.C.A. and you lost this ring, it's yours. My phone number is 202-334-7276.

Kathryn E. Chelsen was pleased to learn that I love cute sayings on church bulletin boards. She does, too, and she recently collected a bunch of them while visiting Dallas.

Her favorite of the litter: "We need to talk -- God."

My favorite: "Let's meet at my house Sunday before the game."