Waxing Neuralgic

I was startled to read that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage described the Middle Eastern states as "neuralgic" on the subject of sending forces to Iraq ["The Security Dilemma," editorial, May 19]. Could he really mean, I wondered, that the heads of state all suffer from a painful nervous disorder?

After an Internet search, my bafflement deepened. The word "neuralgic" appears to have been misappropriated not only by Armitage, Colin Powell and other administration officials but also by writers such as Charles Krauthammer ["Abu Ghraib as Symbol," op-ed, May 7], who might be expected to have recourse to a dictionary. This misuse has spread in military and political circles without acquiring a single clear meaning. At times it seems to signify difficulty, disruption or disagreement; at other times, sensitivity or importance. And at still others, a painful or unpleasant situation.

Which brings me to the question that still baffles me: What on Earth does Armitage mean to say, and why did your editors not ask him for clarification?

-- Barbara J. Orton

Washington

Carter's Criticism

I find it incredible that Jimmy Carter -- champion of high interest rates and Iranian hostages -- is offering sanctimonious advice to the Bush administration ["The Seeds of a Rights Scandal In Iraq," op-ed, May 14]. Carter's administration is widely regarded as one of the most failed presidencies in U.S. history. He ought to have given wise advice to himself -- or at least taken it from others. To impart it now smacks of partisanship and criticism of a sitting president during times of unprecedented national crisis.

-- Barb Link

Callaway, Md.

Marriage in Name Only

I take issue with the claim that the United States now gives some gay marriages "the full protection of the law" ["Gay Couples Marry in Massachusetts," front page, May 18]. While gay marriage now has the full protection of Massachusetts law, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing those marriages. Consequently, married gay couples will be deprived of more than 1,000 federal benefits, including Social Security and veterans' benefits for spouses. They can't even file a joint tax return.

Until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, gay men and lesbians will be deprived of the equal protection of the laws of this country. Even in Massachusetts.

-- Elliot Reed

Rockville

Dying for Israel

Richard Cohen says that "it's criminal" for Israeli soldiers to die "in a place no one but the most zealous of settlers wants" [op-ed, May 18]. The 13 soldiers who perished in Gaza last week did not die defending Jewish "settlements"; rather they were killed while thwarting attacks meant to harm Jews on both sides of the "green line." Those soldiers would still be forced to reenter Gaza to combat terrorism, even under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Ironically, nearly 70 percent of the Israeli electorate, not just the "zealous settlers," voted Sharon into office only last year on a platform opposing unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

-- Josh Hasten

Jerusalem

The writer is a spokesman for the Yesha Council, Israel's primary settler organization.

'Went Missing' Cont'd

"If your paper is going to print letters correcting word usage, at least have your editors check a dictionary first," says Jim Carr of Phoenix [Free for All, May 15]. Good advice. The letter that followed Carr's was from Larry Maucher of Reston, who criticized your paper for not maintaining "a respectable level of grammar" by using the phrase "went missing." My Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines "missing" as an adjective, and cites "turned up missing" as a usage example, which strikes me as remarkably similar to the phrase Maucher derided. I'm no grammarian, but I know how to use a dictionary.

-- Patricia Hintze

Olney