A FEW YEARS ago Frank Mankiewicz wrote an article in The Post's Sunday magazine noting that Washington had become a community full of "communities": "the intelligence community," "the business community," "the defense community" and so on. He was right. These "communities" so favored in our modern lingo all sound like places with a town hall and a public de-tox center, or at the very least like an organized social group busily baking cakes for one another and dutifully watering their lawns on hot summer evenings.

This has remained true even as the term has been extended to ever more improbable communities over the years, of which our favorites until this week were "the criminal community" and "the sex offender community" (a roundup of suspects was reportedly going on in the latter, wherever it may be). We say "until this week" because television news has just treated us to a new one, new to us anyway --"the animal community."

This got at least two mentions on the news Wednesday morning and we're almost certain we heard it at least one other time over the last few days. The reference is not to a bunch of creatures living in a zoo or to a particular newly discovered form of life inhabiting the ocean floor somewhere. No, it seems just to mean animals, excluding, of course, human ones with whom these other animals who live in their own community tend to be favorably compared.

Now, we are aware that the word "community" doesn't necessarily imply a place or a social structure--it can just mean those with much in common. Moreover, looking on the bright side, you could actually see the development of this usage as yet another giant step forward in the democratization of our language from the unashamedly elitist "animal kingdom." And anyway, who can be bothered with all those divisive, discriminatory terms like "species" and "genus" and "pride" and "gaggle," which are of redeeming social value only when you are doing a crossword puzzle or going for broke on a quiz show.

But having said all this, we still have a problem. For if we know anything about the proliferation of the word "community," it is that it is relentlessly broken down to cover ever smaller and odder and more distinctive subgroups. So where do we go from the animal community? To the dog community? The rat community? The mosquito community? The clam community? We thought we'd better alert you.