The truth about "ARUGAH" has been unearthed.

Last month, Bob McArtor of Alexandria wrote in to rhapsodize about a car he had seen with "ARUGAH" license plates. Reminded him of his youth, said Bob -- the days when horns were more polite and more expressive than they are today. Nice to reflect on such bygone benevolence, he observed.

Well, it turns out there's nothing benevolent about either the word or the men who regularly utter it.

"With a great deal of interest I read your article of 26 August . . . as I am the owner of the North Carolina license plate which jogged reader Bob McArtor's mind," writes O. M. Whipple Jr.

"Unfortunately, Mr. McArtor didn't look at the frame around my license plate and he misinterpreted the use of the word 'ARUGAH.' Above my plate, it reads, 'Semper Fidelis,' and below it, 'U.S. Marine Corps.'"

Well it might. For O.M. Whipple Jr. is a colonel stationed at Marine Corps headquarters here. His job? He's deputy director for Marine Corps history. As they say in baseball, "ARUGAH" is right in his strike zone.

"As Marines use it," Col. Whipple writes, "'ARUGAH' is an expression of spirit, enthusiasm and esprit de corps.

"It is normally heard as an ear-shattering, primal scream between 'grunts' (U.S. Marine infantrymen), as a running chant, an expression of euphoria, a plea for renewed drive and determination, a long-range salutation, etc. You can hear it echoing around any Marine Corps installation worldwide.

"The origin of 'ARUGAH' within the Marine Corps is clouded by a variety of opinions, tall tales and sea stories. My version is that it probably started as a unit expression as a way to exhort the unit to run longer and harder than they thought they could during physical training . . . .

"I have it on my license plate because it identifies the driver as a Marine. You'd be surprised how many times I hear 'ARUGAH' yelled as I drive along -- a Marine saying hello to another Marine."

On reflection, maybe the horn sound Bob McArtor was hearing in his memory was closer to "AAH-OOGAH." In any case, we're happy to have clarification from a colonel whose loyalty to the Marines is both mobile and obvious.