[WORD ILLEGIBLE] IN CALIFORNIA has put a new spin on the term "going courting." He is suing a woman [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a date. He is not claiming mental [WORD ILLEGIBLE] embarrassment or the like. According to The [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Times, he argues that the woman broke an contract" to go to dinner and a show with him. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , he says, she should pay for his fruitless [WORD ILLEGIBLE] from San Jose to San Francisco and back. He [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in auto expenses (100 miles at 17 cents per [WORD ILLEGIBLE] for his time (at $8.50 per hour, his minimum [WORD ILLEGIBLE] accountant) and $4 in court costs - a total [WORD ILLEGIBLE] . The woman involved told The Times that her schedule as a waitress had suddenly changed, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] had tried to let him know. She also said he is [WORD ILLEGIBLE] think she might pay.)

[WORD ILLEGIBLE] is something rather tempting about the idea [WORD ILLEGIBLE] people who stand you up. Consider, for example the prospect of compensation from the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] who never arrives. Or the doctor who runs [WORD ILLEGIBLE] late. Or the store that promised to deliver [WORD ILLEGIBLE] by 10 a.m. and at 5 p.m. is still insisting that [WORD ILLEGIBLE] truck.

[WORD ILLEGIBLE] then the philosophers talked about social [WORD ILLEGIBLE] they didn't quite have dinner dates in mind. And we shudder to think of the array of mundane social mishaps and missed connections that could wind up in small-claims courts. Suppose the woman had kept the date but couldn't stand the man. Could she sue him for wasting her time? What if they didn't like the show? And what about this notion that one's social hours should be valued at professional rates? Perhaps someone is a good accountant but a lousy date - or vice versa. Who sets the values? On what grounds? And is an accountant's leisure time worth more than a waitress, anyway?

You can see where it leads. Soon everyone with any social life would want to take out malpractice insurance. Someone would come up with a social no-fault plan. And then there's antitrust, and truth in advertising . . . The refinements could keep hordes of lawyers busy for years. But the introduction of this new risk to what is already a pretty chancy business would surely rob the institution of the dinner date of some of its romance. So, all in all, we hope this involvement of the courts in the conduct of courtship won't catch on. There is some legal ground that's better left unplowed.