Dear Dr. Boli: My contractor says my house needs new “soffit” and “fascia.” I don’t even know what those are. How do I know if I really need them? —Sincerely, A Puzzled Homeowner in Dutchtown.

Dear sir or madam: There is no such thing as a “soffit.” Your contractor is having a little joke at your expense, as Dr. Boli has explained once before in these pages.

“Fascia” are bundles of sticks with an axe in the middle. They were a symbol of authority in ancient Rome, and can often be seen as decorative elemnents on government buildings of the 1920s and 1930s, the Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh being a good example. They were also adopted, however, by the Fascist party of Benito Mussolini, which indeed took its name from them. Their connotations in modern political life are therefore dubious at best.

Your contractor may or may not be correct in suggesting that your house could be improved by the addition of a few decorations here and there, but Dr. Boli questions his taste. At any rate, your contractor may be qualified to make recommendations on the basic maintenance of the house, but Dr. Boli believes that aesthetic decisions such as this should be left in the hands of the homeowner. If you do not harbor Fascist sympathies, do not be afraid to tell your contractor as much, and insist that you will make all decisions in matters of taste and politics yourself.