new internationalist
issue 249 - November 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’.

Why are people from the UK described as POMs in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand?

I know of at least three theories:
The first: that it originated in convict times and stands for ‘Prisoner of Mother England’ or ‘Prisoner of Her (His) Majesty’.

The second: that it is short for pomegranate, because the fair, rosy-cheeked complexion of newly arrived Brits was thought to resemble this fruit.

Third: that it arose from the rhyming slang used by children in colonial times. Apparently they used to greet ships of newly arrived British immigrants with chants of ‘immigrant, jimmygrant, pommygrant’.

The third of these theories is mentioned in GA Wilkes’ A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (Fontana/Collins, 1978) and therefore appears to be the most probable.

Jane Sanders
Woollahra, Australia

I have been told it is because the English were potato eaters – ‘poms’ or ‘pommies’ deriving from the French pomme de terre.

Katie Collins
Somerset, UK

The latest (tongue in cheek) usage is ‘pom de terre’ for a dead English person.

Len Clarke
Uxbridge, UK

Is the story of Elzeard Bouffin – the man who planted trees in the Alps – true?

Yes – contrary to the answer given in NI 247 it is based on Edward Bouffier, born in southern France in about 1858. After the death of his son, followed by that of his wife, Bouffier took to the arid uplands some 60 miles north of Marseilles, accompanied by his dog and about 30 sheep. In 1913 the writer Jean Giono found Bouffier tending his sheep and planting 100 acorns a day. In 1920 Giono found Bouffier again. By then the oaks were taller than men and the forest stretched – at its widest – for six miles. Giono visited Bouffier every year from 1920. Bouffier died at Banon in 1947, aged 89 years, having probably planted saplings or seed for a forest of over a million trees.The full story can be found in Le Sauvage, number 48, December 1974.

Rev Roger Smith
Saxmundham, UK

Why aren’t mosquitoes in the list of transmitters of HIV?

The answer given in Curiosities NI 243 contains two factual errors. First, there is no malaria ‘virus’. Second, there are many mosquito-borne diseases other than malaria, including yellow fever and encephalitis.

The best short answer to the question is ‘mosquitoes aren’t listed as carriers because they have not been clearly shown to be transmitters’.

Joe Minor
Hamilton, Canada

Awaiting your answers...

I’ve read that men have periodical physical cycles, though without the visible symptoms of female cycles. Can anyone tell me more, recommend any books or articles on the subject, or suggest how I might be able to calculate my cycle?

Dinyar Godrej
Oxford, 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?

Diana Gibson
Ross-on-Wye, UK

The phrase ‘the enemy within’ was used by Margaret Thatcher to describe the miners during the British miners’ strike of the mid-1980s. Was this phrase originated by Margaret Thatcher? If not, who was the first to use it?

Geoff Toman and Maria Loewendahl
Oxford, 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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cartoon by P J POLYP

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