Phrases Are Not Your Forte

When a newspaper such as The Post publishes the headline "Holding Down the Fort in the Land of the Flee" [ Style, Aug. 3], the barbarisms are no longer at the gate: They've already stormed the castle and are pouring boiling oil down on those who prize proper English.

Picture an installation such as Fort Washington or Fort Ticonderoga slipping the bonds of Earth and rising through the air. In such an extremely unlikely event, it is conceivable that soldiers would have to struggle to "hold down the fort" with ropes and pulleys. In the real world, however, you simply hold the fort against the Apaches, for example. In one famous -- and proper -- use of the phrase, a beleaguered Union commander in a small fort in the Georgia hills signaled for help. The reply came swiftly: "Hold the fort. I am coming" (W.T. Sherman). The confusion may stem from the nautical expression "Batten down the hatches," which refers to using battens, or strips of wood, to secure the hatches on a boat in the face of rough weather.

Please hold the fort of good grammar against this invading barbarism.

-- Anne H. Oman


I Know My Rodents

Angus Phillips [Sports, Aug. 7] reminisces about Yellowstone National Park's abundant and protected wildlife, including "prairie dogs."

But there are no prairie dogs in Yellowstone. The omnipresent burrowing rodents visitors see there are Uinta ground squirrels. While it is a common misidentification by tourists, I was disappointed that an outdoors writer would make the same mistake.

-- Chris Crowe


Unbelievable Assertion

In his Aug. 7 op-ed piece, Salman Rushdie spoke of "Christian, Hindu, non-believing or Jewish cultures." In what way are Jews nonbelievers while Christians and Hindus are believers?

-- Leo Young


Why Iran Won't Listen

Your Aug. 9 editorial about Iran's nuclear program was on the mark. The development is worrisome. But the U.S. and British governments have contributed to it. Britain assisted Israel in acquiring nuclear weapons. And the Bush administration has decided to ignore the Non-Proliferation Treaty in its dealings with India. Both actions undermine the credibility of these two governments. Add to this that they also no longer guarantee that they will not use their own nuclear weapons against nations that have signed the treaty and verifiably have no nuclear weapons. This makes the treaty a poor deal for these nations.

-- Peter V. Schaeffer

Morgantown, W.Va.

In Error All Over Again

Why must your paper continue to misuse "deja vu"? The headline on Robin Givhan's Aug. 1 Style story said, "Deja Vu; Stephen Burrows Woos Seventh Avenue -- Again," indicating that Burrows has actually done it at least once before. "Deja vu" is commonly used in associating what one is currently doing or feeling with something that one has experienced in the past; this is incorrect. The correct meaning of deja vu is the illusion of having previously experienced something actually being encountered for the first time.

-- Stephen M. Milne

Falls Church

Who Did This Job?

Robert D. Novak's minutiae [op-ed, Aug. 1] about the Valerie Plame scandal are distractions from the central issue: the need for a complete accounting of the role of Karl Rove and others in the Bush administration in "outing" a covert CIA operative. Novak's key point is trivial: whether Plame "suggested" or "authorized" sending her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, to investigate suspicions that Iraq was seeking materials for nuclear weapons. Whatever Plame's role, Novak furthered a smear campaign against Wilson.

-- Tom Cobin