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new internationalist
issue 235 - September 1992

...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’.

What is the origin of terms such as Dutch Courage, Dutch Auction,
Dutch Oven, Dutch Uncle and Going Dutch?

Dutch comforts here displayed in William Buytewech's Merry Company, 1617-1620.

. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was fierce - and sometimes violent - commercial rivalry between Holland and Britain. As a result 'Dutch' crept into the English language as a derogatory term - for example, 'Dutch courage' for false courage (acquired through alcohol) and 'Dutch reckoning' for guessing. But not all 'Dutch' phrases arose in this way. For example 'Dutch tiles' and 'Dutch oven' simply came about because of Dutch designs for these items.

Mark Pack,
York, UK


Is it true that unleaded petrol is less efficient and therefore worse for the environment
than leaded in terms of the amount of carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide produced?

. Yes - contrary to the answer printed in NI 234. Unleaded petrol is less efficient than leaded so the miles per gallon are lower.

But what really horrifies me is the way that, in Britain, benzene is added to unleaded petrol to raise its octane level in order to increase performance. Benzene is a known carcinogen which is banned in the US. Absorbed through the skin, it can produce skin cancer. Some fuel hoses are fitted with shields to help prevent splashing but it is advisable to always wash your hands after filling your fuel tank. Also, do not stand over the fuel line when filling up; inhaling the fumes can produce lung cancer.

This may sound bad enough, but the real danger of benzene is that it passes through the vehicle's fuel system and is discharged into the atmosphere completely unchanged. Neither filters nor converters can affect it. When air is analyzed for pollution statistics the figures usually given are for carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone, but only rarely are the levels of benzene made public. These are always very high, often above levels that the World Health Organization considers dangerous.

So if you have been feeling righteous because you have gone green and unleaded, think again - it might be safer for all of us if you change back again!

Rosemary Thompson,
Heathfield, UK

How is Aotearoa pronounced - and am I the only one who doesn't know?

. Try Ow-tee-a-ro-a.

Beth Simmons,
Bolton, UK

cartoon Awaiting your answers...

I've heard that the 'croissant' is linked to anti-Islamic sentiment.
Is there any truth in this?

Polly Barnes,
Stratford, UK

Are broad-leafed trees better than conifers in terms of soaking up excess
carbon dioxide - and so helping to reduce global warming?

Felex Anselt,
Haworth, UK

How did the wretched term (economic) 'basket case' come from?
Who used it first and in reference to which country?

Stephen Langford,
Paddington, Australia

Was one of British Queen Victoria's grandmothers an African princess?
Is it true that Queen Victoria's first child was black and was for this reason 'destroyed'?

Jasmine Lail,
Nottingham, UK

Can anyone recommend a book about trepannation or tell me anything
about the benefits of having a hole bored in the skull?

Dafydd Saer,
Cardiff, 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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New Internationalist issue 235 magazine cover This article is from the September 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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