Downton's Starring Roll; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Article excerpt

Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION A scene from ITV's Downton Abbey has two characters smoking long 'tailor-made' cigarettes. Would these have been available in 1912?

A 'TAILOR-MADE' is slang for a mass-produced, factory-made cigarette. Non-filtered varieties were certainly available in 1912.

The cigarette was given its name in the 1830s, a French adaptation of the Spanish word sigarito a diminutive of cigar, which is itself believed to come from the Maya sicar, 'to smoke rolled tobacco leaves'.

In the 1850s, Turkish leaves were very popular in Russia, and the cigarette was brought to Britain by soldiers returning from the Crimean War. Demand surged, and London tobacconist Philip Morris began to manufacture cigarettes in 1854. But cigarettes were hand-rolled, and even a good roller could produce only three or four a minute. So they were a luxury item.

Then, in 1875, tobacco manufacturer Allan & ginter of Richmond, Virginia, offered a prize of $75,000 for the invention of an automatic rolling machine. Young inventor James Albert Bonsack (1859-1924), of Roanoke, Virginia, took up the challenge and in 1881 filed U.S. Patent no 238,640 for a machine that could produce 120,000 cigarettes in ten hours, instantly revolutionising the cigarette industry.

Smoking became popular in the latter part of the 19th century, and by the beginning of the 20th century mass-produced cigarettes were affordable. In 1901 Britain saw the creation of one of the first great tobacco giants, the imperial Tobacco Company, amalgamating 13 British tobacco and cigarette companies -- WD & HO Wills of Bristol, John Player & Sons of nottingham and 11 other family businesses.

The cigarettes favoured in this period were primarily made of light tobacco with a slight addition of a Turkish brand for flavour and aroma. The first filtered cigarettes appeared from 1927.

Kath Moore, Lincoln.

QUESTION What is the purpose of the 'n' button on a scientific calculator?

FURTHER to the earlier answer, this might also refer to one of the terms used in standard deviation, which is often found on scientific calculators. This function is used to calculate the average (arithmetical mean) of a group of numbers, and the way in which they are spread out (the standard deviation).

For the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, the mean is 3, and the standard deviation is 1.58. The number of values used in the calculation is 5, and this is what the 'n' key will give on some calculators. As different scientific calculators have different layouts, it's hard to say exactly what a particular 'n' is. One of the problems with scientific calculators is that, if you lose the instruction manual, the controls start to look like a collect ion of hieroglyphics.

Ian MacMillan, Paignton, Devon.

QUESTION Why do plants, flowers, shrubs, trees and so on have Latin names?

ANY study of the intellectual life of Medieval Europe will reveal the widespread interest in animals and plants. The literary manifestation of this interest was the tradition of the bestiary and the production of early encyclopaedias.

Such treatments, however, were notable for their less-than-accurate descriptions and their inclusion of fabulous creatures, usually with preference shown for the exotic, mythical and imaginative over the scientific. This changed radically with the scientific revolution of the early 13th century and the recovery in the Latin west of the zoological treatises of Aristotle.

Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) was the grandfather of biological classification systems. In his 21-volume History Of Animals he ordered organisms into a complex hierarchical Ladder of Life (scala naturae), placing them according to complexity of structure and function. In 1220, all of Aristotle's work was made available in a Latin translation from Arabic by Michael Scotus in Toledo called De Historia animalium. …