She ordered marinated mushrooms, prawn salad and raspberry sherbet. But no bananas. "I don't have to," explained Nan Price of Northwest, as she cleaned her plate at Bennett's in the Jefferson Hotel. "I always eat about five pounds of them a week, for the potassium. They're my favorite fruit."

Which gives more than a little insight into why Nan Price is the winner of our December neologism contest. The subject was bananas. Her answer was solid gold.

The challenge was:

What do you call those slippery little strings that adhere to the sides of a banana?

Nan's answer:

Fringe Bananafits.

That was a pun-within-a-pun-within-a-pun. The strings are certainly on the fringe of the banana. Plucking the strings loose can give you fits. So what better name for these pesky pieces of pulp? None that I found in the other 1,200 or so entries.

However, two of those 1,200 entries were exactly the same as Nan's. I chose hers because it was postmarked earliest.

This is the first time there has been a tie in the three years that neologizing has been going on here in Levey's space. A special tip of the Chiquitas to Joseph A. Pappano of Northwest and Chris Herdell of Luray, Va. You were every bit as good as Nan, you two. You just weren't quite as prompt.

Our winner is not only a remarkable punster. She is preparing for a remarkable ceremony.

Nan is 1985-86 president of the ladies auxiliary of the D.C. Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. That office entitles her to carry the D.C. flag in next fall's parade marking the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty. Nan says that's one duty it will be a pleasure to carry out.

She also took great pleasure in her career. She served for more than 15 years as one of the first female security officers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "I guarded your money," she said, with a chuckle. "Carried a gun, oh, yes, I was even a shot expert."

Nan retired in 1968. She spends most of her time these days being enchanted by her only grandchild, nearly-3-year-old Cecil Anthony Batts of Hyattsville.

Enchanting isn't a bad word to describe this month's close-but-no-cigar collection. Here are the best of that bunch:

In honor of a certain football team, Threadskins: Donna R. Peluso of Fairfax.

Grafruities: Kathy Hamilton of Arlington.

Strandanas: Vicki and Louis Scheibla of Burke.

Bananasties: Sara Lynn Avery of Rockville.

Monkey's Gunkle: Carina Kjellstrom of Aldie, Va.

Bananalities: Richard L. Montgomery of Arlington.

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dots' Linguini: Tess Ehrenberg of Potomac.

Cord of A-Peals (and several very similar entries): Marcia Creswell of Wheaton, Joe and Mindy Abadinsky of Gaithersburg, Liz McIntosh of Chevy Chase, Marilyn J. Schoon of Alexandria, Alice Cave of Reston, Ken Gauthier of Falls Church and Kathy K. Bolduc of Reston.

Umbananical Cords: Sandi Smith and Jacob Greene of Northwest.

Waste Bands: Jennifer Baggette of Harrisonburg, Va.

Chimpangee-Strings: Joan Barra of Chambersburg, Pa.

Banana Split-Ends: Laura R. Burris of Jersey City, N.J.

Innermost Peelings: Sue Pierce of Rockville and Ralph Goodwin of Annandale.

Ban-Dangles: Ted Deabler of Columbia.

Cusser's Last Strand: That former winner and frequent runner-up, Miles Klein, of East Brunswick, N.J.

String-A-Ma-Jig: Layla Masri of Gaithersburg.

The Labor of One's Fruit: Vilma Colon and Robert Klein of Burke.

Ape-Pendages: Madeline MacNeil of Hillsboro, Va.

Sinew Qua Non: Hannah Klein of Wheaton.

Fruit Gloops: Jack Hamilton of Arlington.

Banana Splints: Susan Wright of Gaithersburg.

And last but not least, Skin Flicks: Marty Schaffer of Arlington.

Never has a lowly banana brought forth such eloquence. Thanks to all entrants. And now it's time for thinking caps once again. Here's the new challenge:

You place a phone call, and a machine answers. Oh, well. Happens a lot these days. But this doesn't: You wait for the beep like a good little boy or girl, and start dictating your message. About 10 words later, the person you were trying to call picks up the phone, says hello and starts talking to you as if nothing had happened. People who use their answering machines to screen calls (and who don't even admit it, or apologize for doing so) are known as . . . .

No, sorry, the prize is not an answering machine. It's the usual free lunch, at a restaurant of your choice in or near Washington. Levey will come along for the ride. More important, his credit card will, too.

Please mail your entires to:

Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.

What with holidays, travels, hangovers and whatnot, you'll probably need a little extra time on this one. So you hereby get it. Entries close on Friday, Jan. 24. Please be sure to include your phone number(s) on all entries. You may enter as often as you like. CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

You can't buy anything with one of them any more. You can't buy much with a handful, come to think of it. But if you're like Marion S. Brooks of Bethesda, you can save your pennies all year long and give the results to our annual fund-raising campaign.

Marion sent along a $30 check the other day, which represents her 1985 penny "take." She doesn't say which receptacle she recommends for her collections, and I don't suppose it matters much. But helping sick kids whose families can't foot medical bills matters a great deal. If you're looking for a way to gather a Children's contribution, maybe penny-saving is it.

This is the day, every year, when a certain columnist rises on grounds of paternal privilege and says happy birthday to a certain young lady.

Emily Susanna Levey is 4 years old today. She will celebrate, I'm sure, by making her father tell the I Was Born story for the 3,476,946th time.

All about the drive to the hospital along the snowy streets. About Mom's belly being all the way out to here. About how Dopey Dad dropped his change all over the delivery room floor because he was so excited. About how a nurse handed us a very tiny funny-faced new person at 9:40 a.m.

Emily went home three days later, and she has never been a patient in a hospital again. She is just beginning to realize how lucky she is.

When she cuts herself, a Band Aid does the trick in seconds. When she collides with another kid at school, a "bump bottle" makes it all better. But sometimes kids get so sick that they need hospital care. Where do they go?

Emily knows the answer. She calls it "the hospital for kids where you take all the checks." That's not what it says over the door, but she's got the right idea.

Happy birthday to the precious child in my life. Please give to the campaign today, to safeguard the health of the precious child in yours. TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.