Speaking the right language

An article, ``The great chopstick controversy'' [Jan. 23], states, ``In Japan, they are called hashi, meaning bridge, as the chopsticks are the bridge between bowl and mouth.'' Besides the fact that the hashi, which means chopsticks, is accented on the first syllable, while the word for bridge is accented on the second, the kanji used to write these two words are different. If you break them into components, the top part of the kanji for chopsticks means bamboo and the bottom is the same as one of the characters for person, although this may not be its derivation. The left side of the kanji for bridge means tree or wood.

Such articles offering some of the history and etiquette surrounding an everyday utensil often give a better insight into other cultures than do other, more ``serious'' forms of journalism. But it is unfortunate that they contain statements -- like the one quoted -- which gives the Japanese language a sense of quaintness it does not merit. The author did not reveal the source of the explanation that chopsticks are a ``bridge between bowl and mouth,'' but perhaps it is an illustration of the way the Japanese play with their language. Phyllis Woodbury Davis, Calif.

The endless press speculation over the strategies and dealings of the Nicaraguan contras is tantamount to counting the angels on the head of a pin and only serves to help legitimize their ruthless soldier-of-fortune mentality. What matters is their tactics: ambush, bombing, and murder. Contras kill civilians picking coffee, burn stored grain and farm equipment, and blow up hospitals and day-care centers. Margaret Sullivan Pacifica, Calif. Re the article ``Honduras angry that the US refuses pact'' (Jan. 24).

The anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan contras are hosted by Honduras. If these rebels were pursued by the Nicaraguans into Honduras, there is little doubt that the United States would aid Honduras in repelling the ``invaders.'' Also, Honduras has had border war with El Salvador.

However, is it accurate for Honduras to claim that the US may be an unreliable ally because it sided with Britain in the 1982 Falkland Islands war? Or, that the US has its own interests, not those of Honduras, at heart, given the fact that Honduras received $247.4 million in economic and military aid in 1984? A resounding no!

Indeed, the US sided with Britain since Argentina invaded British territory. The Rio Treaty had no applicability. Hemispheric collective defense could not be invoked.

The new sense of Honduran nationalism is less a manifestation of hurt feelings or a perception by others that it is a US subordinate than an endeavor by Honduras through a formal defense treaty with the United States to extract increased aid which the Honduran government elites will utilize, in part, for their personal benefit. Elliott A. Cohen Pomona, N.Y.

Edward Kennedy's preachments on racism in South Africa would have been more powerful had they come from a man who didn't live in exclusive enclaves in Virginia and Cape Cod and who hadn't sent his own kids to exclusive grammar and prep schools. James V. Crotty Parede, Portugal Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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