Around the nation for years, the cliche often cited to dramatize the difference in perception of an event that divided Washington, as the capital, from the rest of the nation, was the question: "How will it play in Peoria?"

We haven't heard much from or about Peoria lately, because the metaphor has changed. Increasingly, in print and on broadcast talk shows, it's become a question of whether an event has become an "inside the Beltway" story -- one of interest and concern chiefly to the Washington community but causing yawns "beyond the Beltway."

In the Public Broadcasting Corporation's "Washington Week in Review" on Friday evening, Newsweek correspondent Gloria Borger used the metaphor once again. A few people in, say, Tucson or Bangor may be a bit baffled as to its meaning.

The "Inside the Beltway" phrase -- referring, if you've spent the last 20 years on Mars, to the Capital Beltway that encircles our town -- was the subject of a piece recently on the Washington Talk page of the New York Times. But writer Sara Rimer didn't trace the phrase to its origin.

I first encountered it many months ago in the columns of currentl;y vacationing colleague, Mike Causey, whose Federal Diary usually appears atop Metro Scene. He would refer from time to time to a government-worker issue as being one of primary concern "inside the Beltway" -- although a lot of Washington-based feds live in such remote "beyond the Beltway" sites as Bowie, Springfield, Wheaton and Dale City.

Causey, in what would pass for an interview if it weren't just a prevacation gab session with a colleague, allows as how he figures he's the author of the latest national cliche. Honor where due.