New Internationalist

Curiosities

Issue 253

new internationalist
issue 253 - March 1994

Questions
...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.

Do cultures where characters are used instead of letters have an alphabet? And how do they use dictionaries?

photo by CLAUDE SAUVAGEOT Chinese dictionaries may be arranged in either of two ways. First, by classification of ‘radicals’ – the base strokes for characters. These may form a simple character themselves or be part of a more complex character. If the latter, they mark the class of things to which the particular character belongs: trees will have a ‘wood’ radical, liquids a ‘water’ radical, and so on. Chinese children are taught this classification, which is used in monolingual dictionaries. There are 300 radicals or primary characters.

The second is to be found in modern bilingual dictionaries. The Chinese half is ordered alphabetically by the character’s pin-yin equivalents – pin-yin being the phonetic rendering of characters. It still helps to be able to recognize the character, however, since Chinese has a limited phonetic structure and so has a large number of homophones. Xin can mean ‘hard’, ‘zinc’, ‘new’ ‘firewood’ and ‘happy’ – all of which are pronounced the same, but each of which has its own character.

Ricky Lowes
London, UK

I’ve heard that it is possible to get a covenant cheque book which can be used for gifts to charities and allows the recipient organization to get a full tax reclaim. Is this so?

In addition to the answer in NI 252 you can get one from the Charities Aid Foundation, 48 Pembury Road, Tonbridge Kent TN9 2JD, UK. All you have to do is sign a covenant to them, then you can make out cheques from this account to any registered charity you wish.

Iona Binns
Balerno, Scotland, UK

Which country or region of the world has been the most peaceful – free from both internal strife and involvement in external strife – during the past two centuries?

Greenland has a good claim. Its modern colonization – which started in the eighteenth century – was relatively peaceful. The indigenous inhabitants were not massacred, and native Greenlanders now make up 80 per cent of its population.

All the wars of the past 200 years have passed Greenland by, with the exception of the Second World War. The US had military bases there which played an important role in the protection of Allied naval transport across the Atlantic, but Greenland was never attacked.

There has been discontent at Denmark’s treatment of Greenland, but it has been largely peaceful, and after 1945 Greenland succeeded in getting Denmark to fund an improved education and transport system. Full independence also came peacefully in 1979.

Mark Pack
York, UK

Awaiting your answers...

Can anyone explain to me why we have managed to have women prime ministers in
India and Pakistan and still have deplorable treatment of women?

Ashoni Arora
Queensland, Australia

Has anyone published a list of products and services that can be bought
without doing harm to babies, animals, human rights and so on?

Suzanne Britton
Stowmarket, UK

Where does the custom of knocking glasses together before we drink come from?

Patricia Plummer
Toshima-ku, Japann

What are the pros and cons of microwaves?
Are they more or less environmenty-friendly than gas or electric stoves?

Andrew Young
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).

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Big Bad World Virtuous Reality... Seeing is believing [image, unknown]
POLYP cartoon [image, unknown]
POLYP cartoon POLYP cartoon POLYP cartoon [image, unknown]
POLYP cartoon [image, unknown]

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