How's this again? An advertisement in this newspaper, published yesterday under the classified heading "Bids and Proposals," began its message with the words, "The City of Washington, D.C., Department of Public Works, requests the submittal of qualification statements . . . . "

The City of Washington, D.C.? The what?

As an active governmental unit, the City of Washington hasn't existed since June 1, 1871. On Feb. 21 of that year, President U.S. Grant signed an act of Congress into law that, among other things, said:

"That all the territory . . . within the limits of the District of Columbia . . . is . . . created into a government by the name of the District of Columbia . . . a body corporate for municipal purposes . . . .

"That the charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown shall be repealed on June 1, 1871 , and all city offices . . . abolished on that date . . . .

"That portion of said District included within the present limits of the city of Washington west of the Anacostia River and south of present-day Florida Avenue shall continue to be known as the city of Washington . . . . " That was a significant provision because it dealt with municipal debt and laws enacted to apply to the city but not the countryside beyond, then called Washington County.

A provision similar to the latter one applied to Georgetown. In 1895, Washington legally absorbed Georgetown, which by law "shall no longer be known by the name . . . of Georgetown . . . . " (Try telling that to Georgetowners or to those responsible for passing the congressional Old Georgetown Act of 1950!)

Actually, if one wants to get technical (as Metro Scene is cheerily doing), even the motor vehicle licenses issued by the District to owners beyond Florida Avenue are legally imprecise. They say "Washington, D.C.," but that's their post office address, not their governmental unit.