Silly Questions: Read/ignore this if applicable

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The Independent Culture
AN IMPRESSIVE batch of correspondence enables us to answer all the qeustions posed last time, so here goes:

By what title should the successor of ex- King Constantine of Greece be known when he does not succeed to the throne? J P Maloney writes: 'Ex-King Constantine will be succeeded by Not-King Constantine of Greece. The mantle then passes to Never-Will-Be-King Constantine of Greece, and which point the line of accession ends; future male heirs will be known as Stavros.'

He (Mr Maloney, not King Stavros) also provides the correct term for one's first wife's second husband's second wife. It is 'woehil', an acronym for wife of ex-husband-in-law. Progeny of the union are known as 'woehillocks'.

We are less convinced by his explanation of the difference between 'delete where applicable' and 'delete where inapplicable', which he says is/is not obvious and does/does not require witty/tiresome elucidation.

Caroline Hull, however, points out: 'While the phrase 'delete where inapplicable' encapsulates only those items which are to be excised, 'delete where applicable' holds in view both the items which are to be excised and those to be retained: the content of the word 'delete' here is comparatively great, since it refers not only to a motor reflex but also, implicitly, to the decision-making process which must precede the action. The act of choosing is external to, and precedes, 'delete where inapplicable', but is implicit in 'delete where applicable'.'

But can it really be so simple? H Carroll, who asked the question in the first place, says that he really wanted to know whether to delete the phrase 'delete where (in)applicable' if there was nothing else applicable to delete. It seems to us that Ms Hull's argument ignores the possibly self- referential nature of the instruction entirely, and that 'delete where applicable' would be applicable for deletion if, and only if, nothing is applicable for deletion. But this paradox is due to what Russell called a category error or possibly what the psychologist Dr S F Blinkhorn calls an orifice error, namely talking out of the wrong one.

Wilfred Bucknall writes on the subject of dropped toast always falling on the marmalade side. He says it only happens when you have buttered the toast on the wrong side in the first place. Unfortunately the only way to determine which is the right side is to drop it with marmalade on.

It has, incidentally, been pointed out that since cats always fall on their feet and toast always lands on its buttered side, there is a considerable problem in predicting the behaviour of cats dropped with buttered toast attached to their backs. Some say they cannot land at all and believe this may be the secret of space travel. What was thought to be engines humming is, in fact, the purring of buttered cats.

This week's questions: Why have no animals evolved with wheels? Why do toffee packets not have an official dental health warning? (Both from Peter Bernard) How do British Rail and London buses organise transport to leave on time if you are a few seconds late, while keeping you waiting for ages if you are on time? (Tom Gaunt). And finally, Donald Pogson asks: Why is my search for realpoo so disappointingly negative when shampoo is easily available in a variety of odours?

Answers and questions, applicable and inapplicable, will be welcome at Silly Questions, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.