'Twas the Sunday morning before last, and like many of us, Robert Wood had run out of money and milk simulataeously.But never fear: those 24-hour money machines at American Security Bank would save him as they had so many times before

Lovingly, carefully, Wood typed his code into the Automatic Teller Machine at the Dupont Circle branch. A few whirs, a few clicks and a message flashed: Sorry, but this machine is out of order.

"It was no big crisis; not yet, anyway," said Wood, a Washington lawyer. "I tried the machine right beside it."

With the same result.

And the two machines at the 19th and M Street branch.

With the same result.

And the two machines at the 1612 K Street branch.

With the same result.

"It was only after a cop told me that the machines were out of order at the Capitol Hill branch that I started getting a little panicky," Bob Wood says. "I had lots of money in my acount and no way to get at it. It was like something out of "Alice in Wonderland."

Bob didn't know it, but his 0-for-6 steak was peanuts. American Security was experiencing one of those days that, as public relations director Roger Conner put it, "isn't supposed to happen."

Everyone of American Security's Automatic Teller Machines in the whole city was a s dead as a doornail for most of that sultry Sunday. The reason was as simple and human as they get:

A programmer had pushed the wrong button.

The button she should have pushed would have moved the Automatic Teller Machine system from "on-line" to "off-line," Conner explained. On-line means that a customer can find out his balance at a glance, and obtain as much as $500 in cash. Off-line means the customer cannot find out his balance and can obtain a maximum of $100.

"The system was scheduled to be moved to off-line that Sunday so we could do some repairs to the air-conditioning system in our computer area," Conner said. "Somehow, the entire system was shut down." The error was discovered -- and quickly corrected -- late Sunday.

"We can't say it'll never happen again," said Conner. "But I can assure you that steps have been taken that will significantly decrease the likelihood."

Bob Wood didn't wait for those steps. He took a step of his own that fateful Sunday. American Security isn't going to like it.

"I finally called up a friend who has an account at Riggs" National Bank, he said. "He met me at their Dupont Circle branch. Their machine worked just fine."

Well, maybe now we know why Jimmy Carter lost. People can't agree on how he pronounces "nuclear."

No sooner did I declare in print a few days ago that Carter pronounces it NOO-cue-lur than Muriel E. Lewis and Vincent Fitzpatrick wrote to disagree.

A thousand times no, said Lewis, who lives in Northwest. Carter "couldn't decide whether the 'L' went before the 'C' or after, so he left it out entirely. What he said sounded something like Noo-kee-ur."

A thousand more times no, said Fitzpatrick, who lives in Chevy Chase. "I taped the Great Debate," he writes, "and Jimmy definitely pronounces the word as Noo-kee-yuh, and sometimes NOOK-yuh. In comparison with NOO-cue-lur, you have to rate NOOK-yuh a good try."

Other correspondents suggested other pronunciation campaigns, and they've got my whole-hearted support.

Ann Jones of Silver Spring wants to take a slice out of those who say it con-tro-VER-see-ul. The right way, according to Ann and a friend of hers named Webster: con-tro-VER-shul.

Scott Peters of Bethesda decries the way "half the people who live and work in our capital city pronounce it WAR-shing-ton.

"Let's start a campaign to keep the R out of Washington," Scott suggests. "This has nothing to do with the current resident of the White House," he appends.

My own pet peeve: REE-luh-ter.

Sylvia Zavitzianos of Bethesda, who "realtors" for a living, passes along a neat rhyme for those how haven't mastered this one:

"You can do you bit, use two, not more /

"Syllables when pronouncing Real-tor."