I’m enclosing a bag of salted-in-the-shell peanuts because I think it makes a statement, although I’m not sure by whom or about what. Please note the warning on the back of the bag:

CAUTION: Remove shell before consuming nutmeats

I’m speechless. Is this some kind of joke? Is this an indication of what peanut distributors think of the mentality of the people who consume their product? Is it a reflection of the paranoia corporate America has been pushed into by the lawsuit-happy American public? Or have we really gotten to the point where it is now necessary to tell the Teeming Millions how to eat peanuts? –Bob Madel, Chicago

All of the above, Jake. I talked to the people responsible for the warning, Ace Pecan Company of suburban Chicago, and while they were guarded on the phone, it’s clear they’re dealing with some real bozos out there. They tell of one character who ate an entire eight-ounce package of sunflower seeds, shells and all, and suffered an obstructed colon as a result. (An obstructed colon, which can be caused by too much roughage, is basically the world’s worst case of constipation. Fecal matter backs up inside of you, developing the consistency of a brick.) The victim, dismissing the possibility that she may have brought this on herself, demanded compensation from Ace, but gave up after the company pointed to the warning that appears on all its products with shells, sunflower seeds and peanuts included. Admittedly it looks silly, but you can understand the problem.


I’m confused after reading your explanation of the changes in British royal family names over the years [January 22]. Are you sure that before 1917 they used the surname Saxe-Coburg and Gotha? Saxe-Coburg and Gotha is the duchy in Germany where Queen Victoria’s husband Albert was born. Prince Albert’s father and older brother were known as Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but according to Stanley Weintraub, who published an exhaustive biography of Queen Victoria last year, Albert’s family name was actually Wettin. Did Edward VII, Victoria’s successor, take the name of his father’s birthplace as his own family name? –Ms. Sweeney, Washington, D.C.

Why I ever got into this I’ll never know. To tell you the truth, nobody is quite sure what the royal family name was prior to 1917. Certainly not the British, whose befuddlement in these matters has attained the stature of legend. Part of the problem is that royal family names do not necessarily coincide with surnames. Queen Victoria was a member of the House of Hanover, but her family’s surname, seldom if ever used, was Guelf, sometimes spelled Guelph.

Her marriage to Prince Albert confused things even more. Prior to 1917 it was generally supposed that Albert had belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. This irked the British public during World War I, when Albert’s grandson George V was king. The writer H.G. Wells, for one, complained about Britain’s “alien and uninspiring court,” prompting George’s famous remark, “I may be uninspiring, but I’ll be damned if I’m alien.”

Eventually George agreed to change his family name. No sooner had he done so, however, than it was discovered that no one was exactly sure what his family name was. “Was it ‘Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’?” one historian wrote. “No, thought the College of Heralds, it was probably ‘Wettin’ or, even more outlandish, ‘Wipper.'”

One giggles with glee at the vile puns one could work up on Wettin and Wipper, but no matter. They were swept out by royal proclamation in 1917 and replaced with Windsor, and for once the royal family name and surname were identical. Elizabeth II, however, could not bear to have this monotonously sensible state of affairs continue. In 1960 she proclaimed that while hers would remain the House of Windsor, her descendants would bear the surname “Mountbatten-Windsor.” The traditional muddle was thus restored, and there the matter rests today.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.