Silly Questions: A tale of animals and Americans

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The Independent Culture
A TAIL for last week's squirrel has been provided by Mike Corner, writes William Hartston: 'I am surprised that none of your perceptive contributors has realised that the American linguistic attitude towards the Yerpean squirl derives subtly but directly from their fawn policy. Have a nice day.'

Our request for recommendations for decaffeinated coffee-table books produced a wealth of expurgation and bowdlerisation. John Lamper recommends 'interesting looking books with their pages carefully removed.'

More specifically, Stuart Cockerill advises Boys from Brazil with all the good bits ripped out. Caroline Hull advises anyone wishing to fill a decaffeinated coffee-table to contact the estate of her great- aunt Mabel, which includes many such works, some with rather attractive green covers.

Most specific of all, John Barrs selects the relevant volume of 'Britain and Rose's monumental work, The Cactaceae, that deals with the epiphyllums and other spineless cacti. Or any paperback, preferably by David Attenborough, on the spineless anteater. He ends with another query: 'By the by, we call it decaffeinated coffee, the Swiss call it decoffinated cafe. Who is correct?'

Numerous art historians have written to provide the missing details of the life of the Italian outdoor graffiti artist Al Fresco. Adam Nottage mentions a possible relationship with the Italian escapologist Arri Vaderci. R J Pickles identifies him as a distant cousin of the other great Renaissance graffiti artist, Kilroy.

The work of both men (with Fresco's considerably the more versatile oeuvre) has been dated as appearing simultaneously in several different places, indicative of the fact that neither man had a specific birthplace.

Thus, unlike da Vinci, Parmesan, Eric Morecambe and Joe Bognor, Fresco was unable to adopt a place name as his own. According to John Lamper, Al Fresco assumed his name because he thought his career as an artist would be a picnic.

Judge Michael Cook asked why heavy-goods lorries always intervene between himself and motorway exit signs. 'Divine retribution,' says B Atkins Smart. 'To be overtaking a lorry on a motorway, one must travel at 85mph or more, which, as a legal gentleman must know, is illegal.'

Stuart Cockerill suggests it is because 'it takes their drivers so long to read the signs.' Literate drivers wishing to argue the point with Mr C should take the most northerly exit (if they can read the sign) off the M1.

This week's questions: Why is the index finger so called, when it's easier to turn the pages of an index with the thumb? (Keith Knight). Why are so many of the world's great legal minds contribution to Silly Questions? (Stuart Cockerill, who also asks whether the law has always been an ass).

Finally, David Butland asks: Can anyone tell me why we order 'bacon, egg and chips,' but 'egg, chips and mushrooms,' and how do we know that the addition of sausage makes it 'sausage, bacon, egg and chips.' What laws govern this apparently immutable word order?

Answers to Silly Questions, please, at the usual address.