THOUGH almost a third of the population is now said to work from home, Gadfly has almost always resisted the temptation. Certainly home is where heart and hearth is, where the fire blazes, the broth pot bubbles and the kettle sings sweetly, white no sugar.

It is also where the armchair awaits, a perfidious, horsehair Lorelei which murmurs "just five minutes" and washes up its victims - sleep tossed and sackless - two fitful hours later.

Today's column is home based, nonetheless. Principally, it is because we share a house with 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, partly that there is more room to spread the great cascade of correspondence which followed the last one....

MOSTLY the debate has concerned the meaning of the verb to howk. "I thought that everybody who went to school in the North-East would know that howking means to pull out or extract (not specifically from noses)," writes Colin McCulloch from Teesside.

"I still occasionally use the term in the sense of removing rather roughly, as in 'howking out weeds'. I now wonder what people have THOUGHT I meant all these years."

Subsequently, however, Colin - whose search engine may be akin to the Flying Scotsman at full throttle - discovered an entirely more surprising reference to howking in, of all things, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley.

We shall also be pondering several other North-East words and phrases, potter about in the turnip patch, consider proof that God is a Geordie, and return (amid fears of nasal congestion) to the subject of nose picking.

There will be a dander down Apostrophe Avenue, a curious contribution from the Stokesley Stockbroker and, for fear those south of the Tees feel tribally marginalised, some Yorkshire Yammer, too.

Lest the prologue prove yet longer than one of Mr Frankie Howerd's, however, it's on with the motley...

THE notion that that a "good howking" might be synonymous with a "good hiding" now seems unfounded, despite a rearguard action by Roger Bean.

Though his grandfather, a lifelong miner at Hamsterley Colliery and Medomsley Drift near Consett, talked of howking the garden - and since he grew prize roses, it was clearly a good howking - Roger also recalls a threat from school bullies.

"Giz aal yer liggies or aal gie yer a good howkin' ower."

(A "liggie", he further explains, was a standard size glass marble with a coloured twist in the middle, four a penny - "in my case at Rowlands Gill" - in the 1950s. A penker, as lost by Wor Geordie, was bigger. Cheats, adds Roger, used ball bearings.)

Perhaps, suggests Bert Draycott - that world champion spoon player from Fishburn - we are becoming confused with "yowking", as in "Thoo's lookin' for a good yowkin', son."

To howk, the OED agrees, is to excavate or dig out - "as in howking and spitting black uns (or green uns)" adds Bert, colourfully.

Clive Sledger from Aldbrough St John, near Richmond, has consulted his New Geordie Dictionary, edited by Frank Graham. "Howk" means dig - "he's howking taties" - and a howkey is an old name for a pitman, and in those days they dug deep.

IT'S not just taties but turnips that may be howked, of course, and that's the roof of another great debate.

Scott Dobson insisted that turnips were bagies, of which Colin McCulloch (and he by no means alone) had never heard. Around Hetton-le-Hole, writes Alan Moist, they were snaggers.

"I remember two oldish women whose seasonal work at the Co-op was 'snagging' turnips, removing tops and hairy roots with a machete-type large knife."

John Briggs, brought up in Sunderland but shifted to Darlington, reckons that round their youthful doors a turnip was either a narkie or a tuggie, which would have been all very well had we not bumped in the pub into Ray Snowball - Crook Town's goalkeeper in three successful Amateur Cup finals between 1959-64.

A retired headmaster, Ray was raised in Silksworth, Sunderland, where a turnip was always a nasher.

It was spelt, he supposed, without the silent "'g'. "There was nothing very silent in Silksworth."

Then, of course, there is the down to earth difference between a turnip and a swede. The Boss says that turnips are the white things that are fed only to cattle. She may well be mistaken.

CHAPTER seven of The Water Babies finds Tom the chimney sweep in search of The Shiny Wall, in conversation with Mother Carey (she of the chickens) and with the Gairfowl who tells him of a suitor's spurned love.

"I felt it my duty to snub him, to howk him and to peck him continually, to keep him at a proper distance."

Kingsley lived for many years in Middleham, North Yorkshire. Surely folk weren't given a good howking thereabouts, as well?

IT'S Tom Cockeram, in Barwick-in-Elmet near Leeds, who not only submits his favourite passages from literature - we really will try to include some of these next time - but who kindly sends a little book called Yorkshire Yammer, a Tyke off of Scott Dobson.

The most curious thing about the glossary, about which there may also be more shortly, is that nothing at all begins with the letter 'h'.

Words like 'ull and 'ell and 'alifax are all prefixed by an apostrophe.

Yorkshiremen, apparently, have no aspirations whatsoever.

SO to Apostrophe Avenue, and thanks to the readers who drew attention to a report that the leader of Nottingham City Council has vowed to "fine" £1 any of his 14,000 staff who abuse the poor little thing, all proceeds to charity.

Though something similar was suggested around here, it was felt that any organisation which talks of a forthcoming event on "Sunday February 30" - as the Echo did the other day - isn't yet ready for such largesse.

Colin Jones in Spennymoor also reports that Mr John Richards, the retired Lincolnshire businessman who formed the Apostrophe Protection Society, has won an "Ignobel Prize" from Harvard University.

The "medicine" prize went to the author of a report on injuries caused by falling coconuts, the "physics" prize to someone who worked out why shower curtains billow inwards and the "peace prize" to the creators of an amusement park called Stalin World.

Last year's Ignobel Peace Prize went to the Royal Navy, for saving live ammunition by making sailors shout "Bang" on training exercises.

The public health prize, since there will be no picking and choosing here, was awarded for a study of nose excavation in adolescents.

SUCH else will also have to wait, though we are grateful to Peter Shipp in Redcar for a cutting on Downing Street security from last Wednesday's Telegraph - "no one can gain entrance without passing through security gates armed by manned guards" - and to the Rev Tony Buglass in Pickering for memories of his Bible College days.

The usual argument was that there was a linquistic link between "Haway" and the Hebrew "Hawah" - Jehovah - thus proving that God was a Geordie. It came rather unstuck, however, when the Old testament scholars reached Joel 2:20 - " I will drive the Northerners from your midst."

Allen Nixon, the Stokesley Stockbroker, reports on the chess tournament in a four star hotel when competitors overflowed the foyer to talk of games, gambits and glories.

Concerned that no one else could pass, the manager asked them to move on. The chess enthusiasts objected that they were residents.

"Yes", said the manager - remembering, like the Stockbroker, the joke about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - "but if there's one thing I can't abide it's chess nuts boasting in an open foyer...."

FINALLY back to The Water Babies, and to Epimetheus who opened a sealed box - like Pandora's, or Joanna Soutchott's which (memory suggests) has a Society - and out flew all the evils to which flesh is heir. (They were, adds Kingsley, the children of the Four Great Bogies, but that's enough of that.)

Old Epimetheus got into terrible trouble, of course, but reckoned he still got the three best things in the world - a good wife, experience and hope.

Though it's a formidable trio, readers may have their own top three. The weekly office returns next Wednesday.