Silly Questions / Conspicuous camouflage

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The Independent Culture
WHY do people wearing camouflage clothing look so conspicuous? Adam Nottage blames their shape: 'The wild cam, from whose pelt camouflage clothing is cut, is virtually impossible to see. However, when the cam is caught, skinned and tailored, the eye is no longer fooled, because the beast no longer resembles its natural form.'

Charles Birch points out that 'most people do not walk around dressed in green, black and brown with smelly cream smeared all over them and bits of vegetation protruding from various orifices.' The men in suits are responsible for the conspicuousness of the camouflaged. Stuart Cockerill, however, maintains that London is packed with combat-jacketed figures so effectively camouflaged as to be invisible. 'Invisibility is in the eye of the beholder,' he says.

Why do we call it an 'index finger' when it's easier to turn the pages of an index with your thumb? Nicholas Gough says that index, the root of indicate, indicates pointing. 'Index,' he points out, is also slang for 'nose'. He mentions that it is easy to thumb through an index with one's nose.

'In Latin,' says Mrs B Atkins Smart, 'the term index, meaning 'judge', was used for the first finger, presumably because it was chosen to wag admonishingly at the accused.'

Why are Downs so called, when they are obviously Ups? Russell Valance explains that in the heavily wooded times of pre-Saxon England, the people who made up the language lived on top of the Sussex Downs. 'The Wealden Forest below was only cleared for settlement when the Saxons brought in heavy horses and ploughs. Only free-range pigs, Saxons and swineherds would think of Downs as Ups.'

He also mentions the village of Clovelly where 'the main thoroughfare is named Down Street if you arrive at the top, but Up Street if you start out at the harbour.'

This week's posers: Why is Saddam Hussein, in his decree of right-hand amputation for thieves, so lenient to left- handed robbers? (R Hamilton). Why do North Americans have nasal voices? (J G Hall). How many beans make five what? (Adam Nottage). Answers to: Silly Questions, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

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