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WE know the folks involved take it all very seriously, but a lawsuit over the prefix ``Mc''? Quality Inns International Inc., a mid-priced motel chain, wants to open a new chain of low-cost lodgings under the name ``McSleep Inns.'' Everyone, of course, will get the connection - standardized, predictable, inexpensive fare such as one finds under the renowned Golden Arches.

McDonald's is unflattered by the imitation. The hamburger titan has marshaled lawyers to fight for its rights to ``Mc'' words. Quality Inns's legal forces, sensing a battle of Big Mac proportions, culled a list of 60 non-copyrighted such words from the popular press - McArt, McNews, McLaw, and McFashion among them. The point, clearly, is that the ``Mc'' phenomenon has already spread far beyond the reach of any presumed monopoly.

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That's hard to refute. But in McDonald's favor, there is probably a difference between a columnist popping in a ``Mc'' for the fun of it and a company putting it up in lights for profit.

In any case, the judge in Baltimore's federal district court has the tricky job of deciding when the winds of popular culture have so scattered a corporate logo that its originators can no longer claim possession.

Meanwhile, commentators everywhere will no doubt continue to leap at the chance to pack a quarter pound or so of meaning into two little letters - even if they sometimes look a little, well, McFoolish.

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