Silly Questions: The last word, by definition
Thursday 17 June 1993
On the reason for page numbers in dictionaries, Mrs J Cussens believes them necessary for the binders and for appendix references. Tony Chivers sought the answer by looking up 'dictionary' in his dictionary, finding it (the word not the answer) on page dick-Dies irae. Dicotyledon was also on the dick page. R A Fawkes believes dictionaries are designed to fit between other books on the shelf. This explains why dictionaries include comparatively few words beginning with V, W, X, Y and Z. 'When over-run threatens, it is the practice to omit words towards the end.'
Roger Matthews believes that the page numbers are there to aid dyxlexics, Tom Beevor says it is 'so that spelling mistakes may be more easily referred to', while Stephen Webb goes furthest, claiming that 'it's for people who cannot read'.
Women wearing hats in church are explained, according to Miss N J Baker, by the need to avoid embarrassing those who are bald. P M Foreman says the beauty of a woman's hair would take men's attention away from prayers, while Barrie Stallard suggests that highly feathered men's hats were banned because they disguised how much communion wine their wearers were imbibing. But the definitive reply comes from P D Amer, who quotes I Corinthians ii, 3-5.
Which brings us to the question of why squirrels are all the same size. It may be because fat squirrels fall victim to predators (Roger Matthews), or because squirrels are made to measure (Tony Chivers), but the most convincing explanation comes from Mark Smith, who writes: 'Trees are obviously of a uniform size. Therefore it follows that the holes squirrels live in are all the same size and the nuts they eat are identical, providing the same nutrition. Hence squirrels are all the same size.'
This week's questions: Why do garments always emerge inside out from washing machines? (Katie Stallard)
Why are strawberries red? (Andrea Turner) And why is it that when you are painting a room and spread old copies of the Independent on the floor to protect the carpet, the articles are always more interesting than when they first appeared? (Peter Pool)
Replies and further questions to: Silly Questions, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.
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