We have had a number of complaints about the nomenclature of this week's object. Ladybirds, says RJ Pickles, should be renamed Personbirds in the interests of political correctness. Nevertheless he thinks they should be put on trial for genocide of aphids. Or insecticide at the very least. More usefully, he suggests spraying all flies green, so that ladybirds will kill them too.

Charles Neale accuses us of oxymoronity, claiming that "you cannot spot ladybirds because no woman is both a lady and a bird." MA Higgs, however, refers to "the ladybird, so called because it is neither," and goes on to point out their use in spiders' archery practice, or as teaching aids for counting practice in Leprechaun primary schools or - and we particularly like this one - "as fake drawing pins for fixing imaginary maps to empty wall-boards." Ms Higgs also mentions the use of ladybirds in Elizabethan England as eye-testing devices, or it might have been as evil-eye-warder- offers, we didn't quite follow her explanation and then she had to go off and crimp another farthingale (or possibly the same farthingale again) before we could ask her.

Tony Blades has teams of ladybirds harnessed to giant chessmen for playing in the garden. After the game they can wash themselves off in a bottle- top of lemonade "an ideal ladybird jacuzzi".

Bridget O'Riley believes that they are still in an early stage of evolution as punctuation mark-carriers. "Designed to live in symbiosis with writers or typesetters," she says, "they wait by the scribe until the punctuation marks they bear are needed, then they roll over and drop them on to the paper." Unfortunately their evolutionary process was intended to work up through commas and semi-colons, but came to an early full stop.

"Multi-coloured mobile lentils," says G Pennie. "Rose-leaves infested with aphids can be made into a necklace beautified by happy, gorging ladybirds," says Patsy Abraham. "Chase after it with a fire extinguisher," says Nicholas E Gough.

"When did you ever see a wrinkly ladybird?" ask John and Fiona Earle, believing that they may be on to the secret of eternal youth. Prizes to Bridget O'Riley, Tony Blades, MA Higgs. Next week, Cat-flaps. Meanwhile, we seek uses for synchronized swimmers. Ideas to: Creativity, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Chambers Combined Dictionary- Thesaurus prizes to the ones we like best.

WILLIAM HARTSTON

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