Friday, October 13, 2006

Fuddle duddle

Ordinary Girl asked:

“As posed by 6yr old X whilst I'm trying to navigate traffic! ‘Why do we have fingernails?’.”


“What do you think a duddle might entail...? Full descriptions please :-)”

Fingernails, just the sort of question a child would ask. The answer is fairly straightforward, but not necessarily easy. If you look across the animal domain all animals have nails of some sort or shape. Lizards have hard caps around their digits, bird have talons, cats have claws, cows have hooves. All are essentially made of the same material, a protein based fibre our bodies weave to protect the ends of our limbs.

Evolutionary speaking it was an early development. Nails form the part of the overall part list that all animals have. Unlike the heart, for example, they have diverged in far more ways. The toe cap on an alligator is vastly different from an ungulates hoof. Those are both very different from the human nail. Yet they all derive from the same basic evolutionary function of protecting the end of our limbs.

Now, why do human’s have nails in particular. There is controversy over this, and no real way of proving the right answer. Nails are common in our genus, and our closest relatives also have them. They appear to be very useful for climbing and gripping. However, homo sapiens have not been tree based for a very long time. More likely is their general use as an in built tool. Nails are good for dealing with different types of food, useful given our omnivorous nature.

On to the word “Duddle”. I’m Canadian, so duddle holds a meaning close to our hearts, but only in relation to the dearly departed ex-prime minister Pierre Trudeau. In the annals of Canadian history (yes, there is some) the right honourable Mr Trudeau was thought to have said “Fuck Off” in a quiet aside during a parliamentary debate regarding one of his right honourable colleagues. This debate was televised and the words, though inaudible, where accompanied by a rude gesture.

As many of you are, I’m sure, aware, such swear words are absolutely verboten within the scared halls of parliament. The words were not picked up by the television camera. Yet the Hansard recorder who was transcribing the debate did hear something. He typed into the report that Mr Trudeau said “Fuddle Duddle”.

Are those the words spoken? Only the Handard recorder and Mr Trudeau really know and both of them are now dead. Mr Trudeau, with his usual grace and style (he actually was an amazing prime minister) did not exactly claim not to have said “Fuck Off”, but he did not exactly claim he said “Fuddle Duddle”. With a politicions oil, and his own rhetorical bent he publicly replied to a reporter thus: “What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you say ‘fuddle duddle’ or something like that? God, you guys…!”

So the word is dear to my heart, just not on its own and I’ve long used it when the company around you don’t quite allow the use of “Fuck Off”, but you still want to say it. Thankfully I’ve yet to meet a brit who knew what I was doing…


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