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’.

What is the origin of the expression ‘a different kettle of fish’?

Contrary to the answer given in NI 264 I thought the expression was ‘a different quintal (kwin’tel) of fish’. In New-foundland a quintal was 112 pounds of fish. The expression was used to refer to something that was completely different or something that wasn’t really as it first appeared.

Jim Leonard
Placentia, Canada

How come gases which are normally considered heavier than air are reaching
the upper layers of our atmosphere?

In addition to the answers given in NI 265, the thing to remember is that gases – unlike liquids or solids – have no natural boundary. When a new gas is put in a container the individual molecules continue to move around at an average speed depending on the amount of energy in the gas (the hotter the gas, the greater the energy).

The molecules move in random directions, colliding frequently with one another. This process of collisions equalizes the energies – and the heat. The gases thus diffuse into each other. Any individual molecule of a heavier gas needs a greater energy to rise to a given height than a molecule of lighter gas. But the distribution of energy in a gas follows a statistical spread (the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution), so within the mixture of gases there will always be some with enough energy to reach great heights.

Tim Jones
Mostar, Bosnia

awaiting your answers

Is there any evidence that matriarchal cultures were (or are, where they exist)
more egalitarian than patriarchal ones?

Martin Ferreira
Montreal, Canada

Whatever happened to Wangari Maathai, reported in the April 1992 issue of NI as
having been clubbed unconscious? Did she recover and where is she now?


Last Spring Kenya’s ruler, Daniel arap Moi, commented that he intended to channel aid towards people who supported him and away from those who did not. In light of this, have any of the organizations that provide aid for Kenya changed their policies or taken steps to ensure that their aid really does go to those in need?

Michael Lumber
Granada, Spain

How did human beings learn to take hard, inedible seeds, grind them up, mix them with water
and cook them to get something they could eat?

Susan Atherton
Telford, England

Which Third World countries have democratic governments, free and non-fraudulent elections,
and good human-rights records?

Jennie Gamlin,
Preston, England

What are revolutionaries such as Leila Khaled, Daniel Cohn Bendit, Bernadette Devlin,
No Nguyen Giap, Bobby Seale, Abu Nidal and Wadi Haddad doing now?

J Cotton
Loughton, England.

Has anyone calculated the extent to which Britain’s former colonies helped make Britain a
‘developed’ nation? What has been their economic impact over the centuries?

David Salter
Cardiff, Wales

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 (see inside front cover for addresses).


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