United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Why do we say United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? I thought we were all Great Britain? I’m sure I am not alone in finding this confusing.
Jill York, Plymouth, Devon
A – Britain is the main island most of us live on. Great Britain is the name given to the main island plus the smaller nearby islands including the Orkneys, Shetlands, Skye and Isle of Wight, but not Ireland.
The British Isles however does include the whole of Ireland, both North and South. The confusion had historical origins.
Geographically speaking, the main island was always Britain.
The political concept of Great Britain dates from 1707 when England and Scotland joined together as one kingdom.
When Ireland was added in 1801 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was created, and when the Irish Free State seceded in 1922, Northern Ireland stayed with Great Britain in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
To add to the confusion we use the adjective “British” to apply to the UK, perhaps because “UK-ish” isn’t a word.
Raymond Burr as Perry Mason and Deidre Hall as Linda Horton in The Case Of The All-Star Assassin
I’ve been watching old Perry Mason movies on TV starring Raymond Burr as the great lawyer. I am left wondering whether he ever lost a case. Can you tell us?
J Rhodes, Leeds
A – Raymond Burr himself was once asked that question by a fan and replied: “But Madam, you see only the cases I try on a Saturday.”
If you want to see a case he loses, the titles to look out for are: The Case Of The Terrified Typist, The Case Of The Witless Witness and The Case Of The Deadly Verdict.
They are said to be the only ones he lost, though some claim that these were later declared mistrials and the verdicts overturned.
An unusual rainbow in the sky
Last month my husband and I were on holiday in the Peak District when we saw a most unusual rainbow in the sky. The sun was setting and the sky was hazy with thin cloud and the amazing thing was that the rainbow stayed horizontal with the different coloured bands parallel to the ground instead of being the usual rainbow shape. What is such a rainbow called and does it happen often?
Dee Spencer, Derby
A – What you saw is called a circumhorizontal arc or a fire rainbow (though it has nothing to do with fire and isn’t really a rainbow).
Rainbows are usually formed by light being reflected through raindrops, with the colours separated and separate wavelengths of light are refracted through different angles.
The circumhorizontal arc is similarly formed through refraction but in this case it is when the light passes through plate-shaped ice crystals suspended in wispy cirrus or cirrostratus clouds.
Such icebows as we might call them, as they are not true rainbows, are not uncommon in America but are quite rare in Europe so you may count yourselves lucky to have seen one.
The number of such buttons seems to vary on suit jackets
Why do men’s suit jackets have buttons on the cuff of the sleeve? The number of such buttons seems to vary too. Does this have any significance?
Jo Stanbury, Gosnells, W Australia
A – Some say that buttons on sleeves originated at the time of Frederick the Great of Prussia, who was infuriated to see some of his officers wiping their noses on their jacket sleeves so ordered that buttons be sewn on to stop them doing it, or at least make it very uncomfortable.
I have seen the same story attributed to Napoleon so it may well be nonsense.
A more plausible explanation is that jacket buttons used to be functional, allowing sleeves to be unbuttoned and rolled up to increase comfort when desired.
And even when the buttons became purely decorative, more buttons indicated more expensive tailoring or at least greater formality in one’s choice of suits.
Can you explain to me why dogs have such short lives? The large breeds only live around nine or 10 years while smaller breeds survive up to 14 or 15. Why can’t dogs live longer when their owners become so attached to them and survive a lot longer?
Rosemary Gliddon, Bournemouth, Dorset
A – The varying length of lifespans of different animals is a bit of a mystery but there is a general tendency that smaller animals have shorter lives than large ones: three years for a hamster, nine years for a rabbit, 15 for a cat, 40 for a horse, 70 for an elephant, for example.
But metabolic rate also seems to play a part with slower breathing animals and those with slower pulse rates tending to have longer lifespans.
It has even been suggested that most creatures’ hearts tend to beat around a billion times in their lives (but the figure is over two billion for humans).
The breeding of dogs may have also shortened their lifespan by encouraging the development of features humans find attractive rather than those leading to longer lives.
If you want a small pet with a long lifespan I would suggest either a tortoise (average about 100 years) or a female lobster (average 50 years but known to live over 100).
The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the British prefer Mz
Many thanks for your recent clarification on the use of “Ms” as a female title instead of “Miss” or “Mrs” but how should it be pronounced? When reading it, a voice inside my head says “Mizz”. Is this correct?
John Nichols, Sedgefield, Durham
A – Opinions are divided between “Mz” and “Miz”.
The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the British prefer Mz while Americans use Miz but I suspect there is very little in it.
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