issue 254 - April 1994
...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 correct name for the aboriginal people of North America?
JONATHAN A. MEYERS /
Perhaps the questioner has in mind an equivalent to the term Innuit, used by the people widely known as ‘Eskimos’ when referring to themselves. The word Innuit means ‘people’.
But there is no equivalent term for American Indians/Native Americans because, unlike the Innuit who by and large share one common culture and whose languages are closely related, the North American Indians of Canada and US have at least nine distinct cultural areas and eight major linguistic groups. So although the names of the Indian nations (the Illinois, Salish, Tlingit and Haida, for example) translate as ‘the people’ in just the same way as Innuit does, there is no one common name.
I have frequently come across indigenous representatives referring to themselves as ‘Indian people’. Surely, if one is looking for the correct way to describe a people one should listen to how they refer to themselves. If they are happy to use the term themselves, why not use ‘Indian’? Surely language is first and foremost about communication, not political correctness.
Rather than ‘Native American’, the term more commonly used in the US is ‘American Indian’.
Why are Australians called ‘diggers’?
‘Digger’ was the term used during and after the 1850s to describe the miners on the goldfields of Australia. In the First World War the word was adopted by troops from Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand involved in trench warfare. To an extent it replaced ‘cobber’ and ‘mate’ as a form of address.
In World War Two, ‘digger’ was revived and applied to soldiers of any rank. Today it is used as a sign of respect for all soldiers – especially the older ‘diggers’ – and the term is heard most frequently on Armistice and ANZAC days.
Was Margaret Thatcher the first person to say ‘there is no such thing as society’?
I suspect that a phrase implying this has been used since history began by those who find it convenient to believe this. In The Mirage of Social Justice Friedrich von Hayek ridiculed the concept of society. In other works he stated that the word ‘social’ has no real meaning. However, Jeremy Bentham wrote the following which pre-dates Hayek by about 200 years:
‘The community is a fictitious body, composed as though the individual persons who are considered as constituting it were its members. The interest of the community then is, what? – the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.’
I remember that Conservative politician Douglas Hurd used the idea of society being the sum of individuals’ interests in his attempt to justify Thatcher’s little gem.
Hayling Island, UK
Did Ringo really play the drums in Strawberry Fields?
Do female animals have orgasms and, if so, how?
Can anyone tell me where I can find information about a drug called ‘Filon’ which was withdrawn by the National Health Service in Britain around 1974/5?
What are the pros and cons of microwaves?
Are they more or less environment- and world-friendly than gas or electric stoves?
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
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?
Where is Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party now?
Whitehorse Yukon, Canada
Where does the custom of knocking glasses together before we drink come from?
Has anyone published a list of products and services that can bought without doing harm to babies, animals, human rights and so on?
Does anybody know in exactly which context the poet WB Yeats described the Anglo-American world and its culture as the ‘filthy modern tide’?
Is there an index on charity organizations which rates them according to political bias, bureaucracy, mismanagement, wastage, quality of information and the like?
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).