Silly Questions: It's all been a terrible mistake

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The Independent Culture
FIRSTLY, let us catch up with the penguins squeezed out a couple of weeks ago. The question was why they are so often portrayed (as in Batman or The Wrong Trousers) as criminals. R J Pickles believes it is due to their resemblance in gait and dress to 'the sinister, ubiquitously evening-suited criminal elements who own speakeasies in gangster B- movies.'

N James provides a simpler explanation - 'penguins are unutterably evil.' He offers no explanation, although sufficient evidence to convict is provided by Caroline Hull who mentions their 'urge to tap- dance with Dick van Dyke' in Mary Poppins. She also cites Pingu's 'average village family' - a clear allusion to Mafia connections.

We move on to omniscience and omnipresence, and how they help you decide whether you have entered a cinema at the beginning or end of a film. David Webb writes: 'If one is omnipresent, one would have been in at the beginning of the film anyway.'

He adds: 'If one is omniscient, one would know anyway and asking how one would know is, in effect, seeking an explanation for omniscience itself, to which the answer must be that if one is omniscient one would know how one would know.' R J Pickles further elucidates by pointing out that the omnipresent, omniscient cinemagoer would have identified the beginning and end of the film by the influx and egress of time-bound mortals.

Why does PC stand for so many different things? 'The answer is easy-PC,' says N Millward. 'It's Perfectly Clear,' says Bill Allen. 'Probably Coincidence,' says W James. Stuart Cockerill says PC stands for so many things 'because he feels it is important to be in touch with the real world, not seen as just a constitutional figurehead'.

But when Prince Charles assumed the monarchy and starts referring to himself as 'we' instead of 'one', will his use of the word 'they' change its meaning? According to Sebastian Sandys, writing in reply to our question concerning the level of authority at which people stop referring to the authorities as 'they', it will.

Here is the Sandys Theory of Personal Pronouns: 'Those in authority stop referring to 'they' at about the same time as they stop referring to 'I' when it comes to taking responsibility. When the monarch adopts the 'royal we', she also stops referring to 'they'. When the President of the United States tell us that 'mistakes were made' rather than 'I cocked it up', there are no references to 'they'.'

James Snowden adds: 'You stop calling the authorities 'they' at the point when you start applying the term to the masses, especially if you hold them in no regard.'

Finally, we return to the question of cul-de-sac, bum-bag, and rue sans issue. Several readers have corrected our translation of cul-de-sac as bum-bag, pointing out that in fact it means bag-bum. N Edwards goes further, correcting also our plural form, culs-de-sac.

Although it is sanctioned by all good dictionaries, he claims that this form is only strictly correct for polybumular bags, or - in the case of roads - for a dead end that has several avenues leading up it. He claims that cul-des-sacs should be used for several distinct dead ends leading off the same turning, and culs-des-sacs for dead ends with separate entries.

This week's questions: Why do Americans try to pronounce 'squirrel' as a monosyllable? (J Williams). Why are the 'Downs' of Surrey, Kent, and Dunstable not 'Ups', which surely they are? (Miss S Le Moucheux). Why, when I load my camera with black and white film, does the image appear in full colour in the viewfinder? (Arnold Cleaver). All inspiration to: Silly Questions, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.