SIR: You press people have been called "the Fourth Estate." Can you explain the origin of this expression and why you came in only fourth? - Tom W.

ANSWER: The expression comes from Britain, whose traditional three estates were the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and Commons. According to Carlyle, Edmund Burke referred to the three estates in a speech in Parliament and then added: "But in the reporters' gallery yonder there sits a fourth estate more important far than all."Scholars, by the way, have questioned whether Burke said that, but somebody did.

It's only fair to note that, even earlier, an English writer said the Fourth Estate was "The Mob." Journalists seldom tell anybody that, but who asked?

SIR: I heard the term "maven" recently but I couldn't find it in my dictionary. Why? - John S.

ANSWER: Probably because you have an old dictionary.

"Maven" (also "mavin" and "mayvin") has become popular in recent years, but it's an old Hebrew and Yiddish word.

A maven is an expert, often a connoisseur, either male or female. If you wish to become a "maven," consult "mavin" in Leo Rosten's "The Joys of Yiddish."

TART COMMENT of the week, from Peggy S.:

"I read in my newspaper that, at concerts, `We've got to do something about tall people wearing hats and fat people.' Why would anybody, tall or not, want to wear fat people?"

weekly.