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Notes and queries: Vincent van Gogh's bilingual letters to Theo

Vincent van Gogh's bilingual letters to Theo; A brief history of South Finchley; How to get the mix in a pill right

Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo were Dutch, so why did they ­usually write to each other in French?

It is understandable to write in French when the alternative is double Dutch.

Brigid Browne, Calne, Wilts

The short answer is, they usually didn't. From Vincent's first surviving ­letter to Theo, written from The Hague on 29 September 1872, until he joined Theo in Paris in the early spring of 1886, the brothers corresponded in Dutch. When Vincent moved to Arles in the south of France in February 1888 he started writing to Theo in French, and Theo replied in kind. They wrote to each other in French from then on, until Vincent's death in July 1890. As to why – they were both living in France, speaking French every day, so it ­probably seemed more natural. 

Lynne Richards (translator, Van Gogh Letters), Seaford, East Sussex

Middlesex, Wessex, Sussex, Essex – what happened to Nossex?

If Nossex became Norfolk (N&Q, 27 January), why didn't Sussex become Suffolk?

Allan Ramsay, Buxton

I don't know about the missing South Finchley (N&Q, 27 January), but when it comes to Acton there's South, North, East, West, Central, Town and Mainline. Does any other place in the world have more stations named from it?

Roger Backhouse, Ilford

If you look on the map, East Finchley is South Finchley. There used to be three villages, North End (North Finchley), East End (East Finchley) and Church End (Finchley Central). Anyone born there still calls it Church End. My grandmother used to walk on paths ­between the three villages.

Jane O'Mahoney, Launceston, Cornwall

The history of these compass-point areas of London suburbs ­often lies in their transport development. North Finchley was the name given to a tram terminus, while the railway station at East Finchley was originally known as East End, Finchley; the company changed the name of the station, and thus of the suburb. This was a frequent process.

There is a West Finchley station but no South Finchley station. At Harrow, the District Railway built its station in Roxeth and named it South Harrow, while in the hamlet of Hooking Green the Metropolitan Railway called its ­station North Harrow. The same ­railway also coined West Harrow, but there has never been an East Harrow.

Michael J Smith, Derby

Where does the "curry" in to curry ­favour originate from?

The curry has nothing to do with Indian food – it comes from the Old French meaning "to prepare" or "to put in order". We retain it today when referring to the rubbing down and dressing of horses, as in curry-combing. Interestingly, the "favour" part of the phrase is a corruption of Favel, a chestnut horse in a 14th century French romance that became a symbol of cunning and duplicity; hence "to rub down Favel" meant to use the cunning that he personified, and to "curry favour" has come to mean to ingratiate oneself through ­obsequious behaviour.

Nader Fekri, Hebden Bridge, W Yorks

How do pill manufacturers ensure that the chemicals are evenly distributed? What percentage error, if any, is allowed?

They stir it, exactly the same as any cook. A properly made Christmas cake requires stirring, stirring, ­stirring, and when that includes ­particles of very different sizes – flour and sultanas – it is a harder task than mixing ­powders and crystals.

But just as a commercial cake ­manufacturer will use industrial-scale ­stirring, the science and technology of pharmacological stirring is quite a science. The enquirer should consult the Handbook of Industrial Mixing: Science and Practice.

John Davies, Haverbreaks, Lancaster

Why are there no female Formula One drivers?

I'd like to think it's because women have more sense, but I suspect it's because the racing fraternity couldn't handle being beaten by a woman.

Gordon Vassell, Hull

Because we have better things to do than drive round and round in circles.

Sue Rowlands, Chorlton, Ches

It couldn't have anything to do with Max Mosley, could it?

Geoffrey Rider, Ripon, N Yorks

Any answers?

Why are bad reviews more fun to read than good ones?

Phil Watts, London SE11

Did Genghis Khan know that what he was doing was wrong?

Edward Hubbard, Tamworth, Staffs

When did corks start to be used in wine bottles? What was used before cork?

Robin Reeves, London SW19

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