Silly Questions: A tongue-twister for Americans

WHY do Americans pronounce 'squirrel' as a monosyllable? According to R J Pickles: 'It is the result of a genetic speech defect where the tongue, when rolling a double 'r' in anticipation of the 'e', goes into a spasm which can only be relieved by the pronunciation of an 'l'. It has led to the grammatical rule in America that a double 'r' negates the following 'e' before an 'l'.'

'Not the fault of the Americans,' says Russell Vallance. 'Their accent derives from that of the city of Brissol here in Yerp. And, as any Brissolian will tell you, a squirl is a bush-tailed rodent that lives in the trees along the Avon Gorge.'

David Clarke asked his wife, who is American. 'Her answer is that it is because the word 'squirrel' contains only one syllable.' Len Clarke says that the Americans 'are simply copying posh English, in which syllables are discreetly halved in number. Thus, decent chaps award only two each to posh names such as Cholmondoley and Featherstonehaugh. Our ability to turn apartment into flat and elevator into lift, however, still hornswoggles them.'

'The squirl,' says Stuart Cockerill, 'is an animal indigenous to the Americas. Its similarity to the European squirrel is an example of convergent evolution. It is excellent when burgerised (with mayonnaise and fries) but tends to get violent when seeing anything remotely red.'

N James produces the most convincing explanation: 'It is because Americans try to pronounce everything as a monosyllable. The interesting question is why they succeed with squirrel and mirror.'

Having surmounted that obstacle, we move on to ups and downs, and why the Sussex ones are downs when they are clearly ups. 'Downs are not ups because they are dunes,' says E Turnbull, explaining that it is therefore raised land and has nothing at all to do with the down that is the opposite of up.

Len Clarke says it is because it is easier to go down than up, and that if lifts had been invented when the Sussex Downs were named, they would probably have been called the Sussex Ups.

'Geographically speaking,' writes Andrew Isitt (so he should, strictly speaking, have said 'geographically writing'. Sorry, that should have said 'strictly typing, have written,' oh never mind), 'the answer is Synclines and Anti-Synclines. A down synclined to be rather steep, anticline it takes a lot of effort.' He hopes this sheds some light on the problem.

We received a wide variety of questions this week, and have decided to begin with something cultural. 'Could you please tell me,' asks Colin Richardson, 'why Al Fresco, the medieval Italian graffiti artist, chose to use his real name and not the name of his town of origin, as so many of his contemporaries, such as Veronese, Corregio, da Vinci and Parmesan did?'

'Where can I obtain books suitable for display on my decaffeinated coffee table?' (a reader in Dorset).

Why do people wearing camouflage clothing look so conspicuous? (Tom Gaunt).

Why is there always a heavy goods vehicle on the nearside lane which obstructs your view of the sign for the next exit on a motorway? (Judge Michael Cook).

All explanations and more questions, please, to: Silly Questions, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering