Silly Questions: A fowl cult is found

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The Independent Culture
TROUSERS, scissors and Cockerills fill our space this week, with the problem of the 10 per cent Cockerill quota arousing strange passions, writes William Hartston.

Caroline Hull confirms Peter Perryman's conclusion that the name hides a complex organisation: 'The Stuart Cockerills (SCs) are a religious sect, based in Yorkshire, who wear distinctive headgear in the shape of a bright red cockscomb, a reinforced steel codpiece (owing to a morbid preoccupation with bobbitting) and giant yellow socks. Female members sit on clutches of used golf balls and occasionally run off with passing dwarfs.'

Howard Pell says that several Stuart Cockerills have been writing to this column under assumed names, while others, trying to ruin the reputation of the real Cockerills, have been using his name.

He believes that Mr Perryman, who asked the question in the first place, is none other than Stuart Cockerill, a view confirmed by someone calling himself Mrs Jacquie Lawson, and claiming that Peter Perryman is an alias used by her friend Jennie Cockerill's husband, Stuart, who himself claims to be married to a woman named Christine. We trust this clears up the matter.

T M Edwards writes with an erudite explanation of why scissors and trousers occur only in the plural. 'In each case a singular form, corresponding to a single object, in a source-language has been lost in the transition to Modern English, whether the source is Latin via French (cisorium - a cutting implement; cisel - a chisel) or Gaelic via Irish (trews - breeches).

'The reason for this ellipsis is unclear. We may guess that it lies in the perception of unity: each pair of constituent elements forms an integrated whole, the dismantling of which would serve little purpose.'

This analysis is strongly disputed by John and Fiona Earle who point out that kippers, pyjamas, socks, trousers and scissors are things you need in the morning to eat, get out of, get into or open the mail with. They come in pairs because we are bad at finding things in the morning and if you lose one of them you can use the other.

According to James Nicholas, scissors were invented by Leonardo da Vinci as crimping shears intended for the sole purpose of crimping and cutting ravioli.

His earliest attempts involved a single scissor for each of the upper and lower sheets of pasta, which made the assembly of the ravioli very slow and time-consuming. In a moment of inspiration, he joined the scissors in a pair and cut both sheets simultaneously to give us the modern, neatly trimmed raviolus.

This week we should like to know: Why did the BBC transmit Middlemarch in early February? (M Evans). Why are the tabs at the back of shirt collars sewn down, while those on pullovers are allowed to flap? (Professor J Hibbs). Why do some answers sent here not seem to relate to any questions ever asked? (W Hartston). Responses and more questions, please, to: Silly Questions, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.