In a recent item about our old friend The Panhandler, I reported that he has a new story. Some vandals have broken the lock on his car door, so he can't get into his car. He needs bus fare because he left his wallet at home.

"When one door or lock becomes in operable," I wrote, "a driver who is resourceful and has a high IQ tries the other side (of his car)." Tom Murphy circled inoperable and suggested I might want to look the word up. This I did, in great haste.

All standard dictionaries give "admitting to surgical operation without undue risk" or a similar definition as one of the meaings of "operable" - usually the second meaning. The first meaning in Merriam-Webster III is, "fit, possible or desirable to use, practicable," and the example given is "a highly operable machine ." Random House's first meaning is "capable of being put into use, operation or practice." Webster's New World says, "practicable or feasible."

Inoperative may be preferable in this context, Tom, but the dictionaries I consulted indicated no bar against inoperable . If I have overlooked something, please enlighten me. By the time I retire, I would like to be able to refer to myself as a finished writer.