Paul Bryant's Reviews > Notes And Queries

Notes And Queries by Brian Whitaker
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Feb 02, 2012

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And now, in response to great public demand (thank you Kate), the answers!

Where did the first part of Moby Dick's name come from?
- Melville based Moby on a real live man-eating whale called Mocha Dick. Mocha was the island off Chile where Dick was often encountered. But why Melville changed Mocha to Moby is unknown. My guess is that it was to prevent any lawsuits from Mocha Dick's descendents.

When did the American accent become recognisably American?
- British pronunciation has since the 19th Century been progressively colonised by the Home Counties (let's say the posh South of the country) whereas American pronunciation has not, they retained all the original features. So as this happened in England, and definately by the last half of the 19th century, American accents became to British ears markedly different.

What happens to spiders washed down the plughole?
- Alas, they drown. They don't have special spider powers.

How did the newt, a graceful and agile creature, come to be regarded as an index of inebriation?
- referring to the phrase "pissed as a newt". Answer is obscure but perhaps a) in medieval times various small creatures were added to beer during the beer brewing process for extra flavour (ew!) and eventually it was thought that newts, being amphibious, would be able to last long enough in the brewing beer so that by the time they did drown their demise would be a matter of indifference; not so with mice or weasels; and therefore a newt was a more merciful addition to your brewing process. Or if that seems fanciful, b) refers to Abraham Newton (1631-98), author of the first medical treatise on the medicinal properties of beer.

Why are dusters yellow?
- This is not definitively known, but a) it's perhaps because early manufacturers wished to identify their dusters with the beeswax which was formerly used in the polishing & dusting process; or b) it's a marketing device to associate dusters with sunshine and spring cleaning.
How strange that there must be a number of manufacturers who make dusters who go to the trouble of dying them a strong yellow but don't know why they're doing it.

What are the longest Shakespearean roles?
1. Hamlet. 2. Falstaff. 3. Richard III.

Why are British elections always held on Thursdays?
- it's the day before pay day, and therefore you had better have the election on the day before your voters will be pissed as newts and not be able to find their way to the voting stations.

Why aren't there any lamb sausages?
- they're too expensive to make (but see message below)

White, Black, Green and Brown are common surnames – why aren't there any Reds, Blues and Yellows?

- they're still there but have been changed - red became Reed, Rudd and Russell; blue became Bluett, Blewitt and Blowe. Oh, yellow did disappear, mysteriously.

Who lives an No 9 Downing Street?
- nobody.

Do the living now outnumber the dead?
- this is a 1990 answer : no, the living comprise about a tenth of all the humans who have ever lived.

What was the first record with a fade out and why do records fade out anyway?

- leaving aside Gustav Holst's last movement of his Planets suite where the singers are asked to walk slowly into the distance still singing; it could be Duke Ellington, Showboat Shuffle, 1935. The practise began as jazz players were still blasting away as the time limit of 3 and a half minutes was reached.
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-12 of 12) </span> <span class="smallText">(12 new)</span>

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message 1: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 I know two people who have "blue " as a surname and you can get Lamb and mint sausages from my local deli.

Paul Bryant I can only think of David Blue and I thought he made up his name. But they say lamb sausages are too expensive to make - how much does your deli charge?

message 3: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Never bothered to look cos I am a vegetarian!

message 4: by Kate (new)

Kate Of courser we need answers! To all of them!! Especially the spiders and the white whale. Never mind newts. I'm afraid of Newt.

Paul Bryant No, not that Newt!

The English phrase is "he was pissed as a newt" not "he was pissed as Newt".

I will provide the answers, never fear.

message 6: by Steve (new)

Steve I liked the examples of colorful surnames. Of course quite a few colors stem from fruits, some of which have also been made into names. (E.g., Lemon, Cherry, and Plum -- like in Clue). One reference mentioned that the splendidly flamboyant name "Bright Currant" had an unusual metamorphosis. Somewhere along the way it was shortened to Bryant. (I had to work too hard for that one, and the pay-off was limited at best. Oh well. C'est la pomme de terre.)

Paul Bryant Ha, so that is my Native American name, Bright Currant.

message 8: by Ian (new)

Ian Vinogradus So Melville could almost have had a Chocolate Mocha Dick?

message 9: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I don't know about Shovelmonkey's deli, but "Heston from Waitrose Lamb & Coriander Sausages" are £9.97/kg from Ocado, making them barely any more expensive than Prince Charles's Duchy range of pork-based sausages at £8.73/kg.

More importantly, thanks for the enlightening review.

message 10: by Paul (last edited Feb 06, 2012 03:53AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Then the question remains, why no lamb sausages?? The world needs to know.

There are three more volumes of entertaining Notes & Queries, I'll get round to them all at some point. Most of the questions can be answere by the application of ye olde google which wasn't around in the early 90s when these were published, and are of no further interest, but some questions elude even the mighty google.

message 11: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Erm, surely the question is "Why do people think there are no lamb sausages, when actually there are?" I've just got back from the shops, and I noticed that our local butcher also sells lamb sausages; his own made ones are lamb and mint and are £6.99/kg - much cheaper than Ocado (but they don't have Heston's name).

The book may predate Google, but Notes and Queries is still in the Guardian every week.

message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Probably then, since 1990 the butchers of our mighty realm realised that there was a market out there in the land of the meatarians and so now, in fact, lamb sausage is frying and grilling away in every third household. Time marches on.

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