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.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Amy Winehouse statue unveiled in Camden
- 2 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 3 George Galloway on Scottish independence: The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
- 4 Headaches, fry ups, and hair of the dog - why do we get hangovers, and is there such thing as a 'cure'?
- 5 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
George Galloway on Scottish independence: The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained in Los Angeles after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Scottish independence: Britain faces 'constitutional crisis' at next election
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly