At least one term in the Dec. 14 front-page glossary of online chatspeak was borrowed, not invented: "TTFN"--"ta-ta for now"--sprang into use in Britain during World War II, when a radio comedy series called "ITMA" provided the beleaguered nation with a restorative dose of wacky humor. The name of the series stood for "It's That Man Again," a reference to one of the show's chief targets--A. Hitler.

The series was short on plot and long on one-liners, and featured a fast-talking comedian named Tommy Handley and other actors playing idiosyncratic characters with their own catch phrases.

For instance, Mona Lott, a sad-voiced washerwoman would explain, "It's being so cheerful as keeps me going." Mark Time, an old man, would answer any question with, "I'll 'ave to ask me dad." Colonel Chinstrap would misinterpret whatever had just been said as an invitation to have a drink; on hearing, say, the word "risky," he'd jump in with "Whisky? I don't mind if I do!" When the charwoman Mrs. Mopp left, she would say "TTFN" to Tommy Handley, and he would reply by reeling off a string of letters, such as "NCTWWASBE," and would then oblige with a translation--in this case, "Never clean the window with a soft-boiled egg."

Britain remained awash in ITMA-isms for a decade or more, and now it looks as though TTFN is about to skip over both the ocean and the millennial divide and take root in the global future. As Ali Oop used to say on the show, "I go--I come back!"

PAUL ELLIOTT

Alexandria