he Answer Man . . . .
QUESTION (from a wishes-to-remain-anonymous reader in Adams-Morgan): "I don't spend a lot of time addressing the royal family, but I recently saw the People magazine front page saying something about 'The Waleses,' referring to Charles and Di. Is that how it's done?"
ANSWER: Marianne Goss of the British Embassy says that "Waleses" is not the "officially correct" way to refer to Britain's fun couple. But 'Waleses' is very common, and it's almost always tolerated, Marianne says. If you want to be a stickler, the correct phraseology is "The Prince and Princess of Wales."
QUESTION (from a reader in Laurel): "I recently heard one kid refer to another kid on a local playground as having 'a lot of moxie.' What's moxie?"
ANSWER: It's a word that has come to mean "spirit" or "spunk." But it's also the name of a soft drink, born in Maine in 1884 and still made today by The Monarch Co. Inc. of Atlanta.
Monarch Vice President Mark Armstrong said the drink has always had a peppy taste and a peppy reputation -- which accounts for the playground expression my Laurel reader heard.
For a time, parents wouldn't let their kids drink Moxie because "it had the reputation of a pharmaceutical," Mark said. That may have accounted for the sales dip that Moxie suffered during the Depression and World War II.
What does Moxie taste like? Sassy root beer, to these taste buds. If you'd like to try some for yourself, Monarch will be happy to tell you where the drink is available in the Washington area. The company's address is 16 Perimeter Park Dr., Suite 110, Atlanta, Ga., 30341. The phone number is (404) 455-3908.
QUESTION (from Lucy Sanchez of Northwest): "When the old oil is drained from the crankcase of your car, where does it go?"
ANSWER: It depends on whether you do the draining yourself, Lucy. If you do, and you're like most people, you will probably pour the used oil down the drain. That is a large environmental no-no. If enough people did that often enough, we'd produce our very own oil slick down by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
It's a much better idea to take the oil to a service station -- or to let the station do the draining in the first place. Service stations collect and sell used oil to oil brokers, who recycle it into heating oil.
If you'd rather take your used oil to a nonprofit collection agency, Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Robin Woods says any local government can tell you how and where to do that.
QUESTION (from Ethel Barile of Takoma Park): "At one time (in the '20s, I believe), the United States mail had the right of way on our streets, preceding fire, police and ambulances. Who goes first now?"
ANSWER: Mail vehicles have never had the right of way over emergency vehicles, Ethel. But you're not the only one who labors under this misconception. People have been making the same mistake for at least 75 years.
Rita Moroney, a historian for the Postal Service, dug up a postal regulation issued in 1913, apparently to straighten out the right-of-way question. It says that mail carriers "are not entitled to privileges on a public highway not possessed by private individuals."
The Postal Bulletin issued a statement in 1922 that reiterated that policy. And Rita discovered a letter written in 1965 to an editor in New York by Ira Kapenstein, a special assistant to the postmaster general. Postal vehicles "do not" have the right of way "over other vehicles on the public roads and highways of the United States," Ira wrote.
There has never been anything wrong with giving the right of way to a postal vehicle. But a law requiring it? Uh uh.
QUESTION (from Charlie Young of Silver Spring): "Received new Maryland license plates for my car. As I was putting them on, I noticed a very peculiar set of circular discs on the plates. They are visible through the paint, but only under certain light conditions. My question is: Why?"
ANSWER: Sgt. Harry Geehreng of the Montgomery County Police said the circular discs are there to prevent counterfeiting, "similar to the hidden symbol in a driver's license."
The District started using a similar anticounterfeiting device on its plates last year, according to Tara Hamilton of the D.C. Department of Public Works.
"The circles say where and when the plate was made," Tara said. "At night, a flashlight, I believe, can determine if the plate is a forgery."
Virginia hasn't gone quite the same route, but it does use an antiforgery decal on the faces of its plates, says Sgt. J.W. Rowles of the state police.
"There's an extra seal on the decal that is not readily observable when looking directly at the decal," said Sgt. Rowles. "It's a diagram of the state of Virginia."