'The Italian painters your reader mentions lived in the Middle Ages (Giotto) and Renaissance (Donatello, Michelangelo) when the use of surnames was not fully established. These are their first names, ending with the 'o' of the nominative case. Michelangelo's surname was Buonarroti (note the final 'i' of the genitive case).
'The composers, Verdi, Vivaldi and Puccini belong to a later age when names and surnames existed in their modern form.'
Moving from culture to science, we have alternative explanations of how pens unscrew themselves in jacket pockets.
Paul Harrison attributes this effect to the Coriolis force cause by the earth's spin. 'The effect can be minimised', he advises, 'by carrying pens in the horizontal position. However the only solution is to avoid opposing the Coriolis force by only turning to the left when walking. In the southern hemisphere, the effect is reversed.'
'Pens unscrew themselves in jacket pockets because of the pneumo-capillary attraction of ink to fine suitings and shirtings', writes Edmund Morris from Washington DC. 'Pressure of body-heated air causes the pen's cool reservoir to contract, thus forcing ink out through the nib, whence it spills down into the conjunction of cap and barrel. Here a sort of spiralling, lubricative loosening takes place, until the latter detaches itself from the former and tumbles gently to a horizontal position within the pocket.'
This week, you might care to ponder the following:
R C Amsden, in a query echoed by Marjorie Heath, asks how it is that Americans go back and forth while Brits (until they too picked up the Americanism) went to and fro. How do you go back before going forth?
James Pearn, in a query echoed by my four-year-old son, asks why the moon can often be seen during the day but the sun never comes out at night. We would welcome explanations that would satisfy both an adult and a four-year-old.
G Q Simpson asks why, in any pair of double doors, one of the pair always seems to be locked, and why one always tries that one first. Why, one might add, does one then push the other one, if it needs to be pulled, and vice versa?
All ideas and further queries should be sent Silly Question, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.Reuse content