The nicest put-down of the year now ending came from William D. Hathaway. It consisted of just three words, "Thanks a lot!", scribbled on a copy of a piece I had written about the Senate race in Maine.

He drew an arrow from his comment to a sentence which said that "Maine has a tradition of significant senators, from Margaret Chase Smith to Edmund S. Muskie to William S. Cohen." Left unsaid by Hathaway was the fact that in between Smith and Cohen, Muskie had had another colleague from Maine. His name was William D. Hathaway.

That was a classy rebuke. A good many of the other corrections and rejoinders were less charitable and more garrulous, and some were downright irate. But, as the annual review of the year's output demonstrates, once again the proprietor of this column provided his loyal readers with a gratifying number of opportunities to write letters beginning, "Dear Jerk:".

There is nothing so likely to snap you out of the holiday high spirits as looking back at the judgments and misjudgments of the previous 12 months.

There were, as always, enough plain factual errors to send me back to Journalism 101. In September, I misattributed a Wisconsin political story which was actually written by Ken Lamke of the Milwaukee Sentinel. He took it with good grace, sending a mildly worded note which declared, "You've destroyed my career and made my mother cry -- and she's from New Jersey."

In April, I demonstrated my financial incompetence by saying that interest rates had gone up when, as George Weber of Alexandria pointed out, almost everyone knew they had gone down.

Continuing what has become a rich tradition in this column, I fouled up another song lyric. Every time I try to emulate George F. Will by getting literary, I get into trouble. In this case, I borrowed a couple of lines from the pop tune of my youth, "Don't Blame Me." The lyric, as I had it, was, "Blame all the charms that melt in your arms, but don't blame me."

Mac Buck, of address unknown, who said misquotations are one of his "pet peeves," wrote a note pointing out that the line, as quoted, "means nothing, if you give it thought. It's '... melt in my arms.' Grr-r-r."

Well growled, Brother Buck. Just brace yourself for the next atrocity. This is the third straight year I have committed that kind of literary gaffe, and I'm not likely to improve any faster than the economy.

The big disappointment in the year-end review was the absence of the traditional howler of a political prediction. Either I am getting more cautious in old age, or the elections are getting simpler, but I searched in vain for the kind of absolutely wrongheaded guess that was so frequent in previous election years.

The only examples were trivial. In mid-October, there was the observation that "it would not be surprising" to see a Democrat win an open House seat in Maine and "a Republican upset" in a similar open-seat race in Savannah, Ga.

It would have surprised other people, it turned out, because the results were absolutely opposite. But in the larger picture, as we like to say, the view of the 1982 elections offered here was uncharacteristically accurate. And on a single excursion into international politics, the recitation of the approaching problems of Great Britain's coalition of Liberals and Social Democrats also turned out to be on the money.

Knowing the penchant of the gods to even up such scores, I can almost promise you that 1983 will be full of glorious goofs.

Meantime, let me recall a prediction from 50 years ago that was quoted in this space last June and which may be as relevant as any end-of-the-year prediction.

When Herbert Hoover was renominated in the Depression summer of 1932, the editorialists at The Washington Post said, "The Republican Party goes into the contest with its best contender, under conditions favorable to success.... In this national crisis, he has been a national leader, and unless a Democratic champion of commanding ability should capture the fancy and win the confidence of the people, they are very likely to put their faith in Mr. Hoover."

Even if I was unable to match that standard consistently in 1982, the lesson of 50 years of political journalism still supports the admonition with which this end-of-the-year essay traditionally concludes: Caveat lector. Let the reader beware.

Happy new year, and, as William D. Hathaway would say, "Thanks a lot!".