issue 240 - February 1993
...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’.
How did the wretched term (economic) 'basket case' come about?
Who used it first and in reference to which country?
I first came across the term 'basket case' in the context of an old-fashioned hospital for people with mental handicaps. It was used as derogatory term by staff to refer to those patients who were confined to wickerwork cribs - hence 'baskets' - and were unable to do anything for themselves.
As far as I am aware it was first used in relation to a country by Henry Kissinger, while he was US Secretary of State. He was referring to Bangladesh at a time when the country was seeking international aid for famine relief.
. North American soldiers who were killed and dismembered in battle were sent home for burial in large wicker baskets. These corpses were called 'basket cases'.
Where does the term 'Dutch Courage' come from?
. In addition to the reply in NI 235, I had always assumed that the term was first used in 1665 during the English Great Plague when the dead were taken to places outside London for burial. Since most local people were reluctant to carry out this unpleasant task the Dutch stepped in and did it, thereby risking infection themselves.
Gwynedd, Cymru, UK
Can anyone tell me more about a waterless toilet - invented by a Swede - which produces high-grade compost?
. It is called a Multrum and consists of a composting chamber with sloping floor situated immediately below a squatting plate. Grass, straw, ash, sawdust and easily biodegradable household refuse are also added. The composting material slowly moves down the chamber and into a humus vault from which it must be regularly removed. Conscientious user care is needed - especially in tropical regions where excreta-related diseases thrive. More information can be found in Sanitation without water by Uno Winblad and Wen Kilaama (Macmillan, London), obtainable via TALC, PO Box 49, St Albans, ALl 4AX, UK. JW
Health Engineer, San Diego, US
What makes a person ambidextrous? What percentage of the world's population is ambidextrous? Is there any research on this subject or any club or association for such people? I am ambidextrous and am very keen to make contact with others!
15 Taman Perak, 10150 Penang, Malaysia
I understand that 60 per cent of crops grown in Third World countries is purchased by industrialized nations to be used mainly as animal fodder. By eating animals reared on these crops am I helping the Third World to get foreign currency and break out of its debt trap or should I refrain from meat-eating in the hope that crops will be redirected to the mouths of the poor?
Is it true that the UK is still paying for the First World War and to whom?
Hastings, Aotearoa (NZ)
Any ideas about what we should call different parts of the old USSR? Do categories like 'East' and 'West' make sense any more? And what about 'North' and 'South'? And what about 'South America' and 'Latin America', for that matter? Which is more politically correct?
Rainbow Centre, Nottingham
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).