Anal-Gastro Social Systems

Voice Card  -  Volume 15  -  Paul Card Number 7  -  Wed, Jul 11, 1990 6:08 PM

[Leading remarks are NOT mine -PRN]

The following article (slightly abridged) was written by Michael Kimball an elementary school music teacher from Maine, and first appeared in the summer of 1982, in a magazine called the "The CoEvolution Quarterly." I know not of the exact whereabouts of the author or the editor (having been simply handed a faded photocopy by person unknown) so I haven't tried to get permission for this distribution.

'...[the] piece you're reading is a strong candidate for the definitive modern work on intestinal gas and its socio-scientific place in the world.

'Fart, itself, is considered vulgar and unacceptable by our dictionaries. Flatulence, an acceptable word, is defined: "The presence of excessive gas in the digestive tract." But who cares about it, really, when it's still in the body? The word flatulent is an adjective describing the condition of having excessive gas in the digestive tract. Flatus, gas generated in the stomach or intestine, is another noun.

'...here's an excerpt from a letter defending the word fart, a breath of fresh air as it were, written by a Dr. Robert J.L. Waugh to the New England Journal of Medicine: "...such awkward phrases as passed flatus or excreted gas are always used in instead of farted. And a fart - as a noun - can be visualized on X-ray."

'...others in the medical profession, would-be etymologists... weren't quite ready to accept the verb/noun fart. One suggestion for a better verb was crepitate. Now, crepitate means literally, "a creaking or rattling sound," and may be fitting, albeit condescending, for older folks; but it's certainly not the universal verb we need. How about exogust? Actually, that's not a bad noun, but it makes a fairly awkward verb. Boomerate? A good British-type verb for a certain genre of fart, but overstated in most cases.

A logical entry was flatulate; the only drawback is the pomposity of its three syllables (or four, as in, "Who flatulated?"). Another one was B.M. burp. I hate that one. It's lewd and it's tasteless. Exmeteorate? Sounds like what Jor-El used to do before Krypton exploded. Then there was gaseous intestinal discharges, and an entry from Harvard Medical School for deflate as both "pleasing to the ear and etymologically satisfying." Not bad, but we might stop and consider the reputations of balloons and tires. And, finally, someone humorously suggested the term flatus advance by rectal transport, or its acronym, FART.

Fart, for me, says it all. It's derived from the Greek word perdix, meaning partridge, a bird that makes a sharp, whirring sound when flushed. The root, perd, easily changed to pherd, then to the more staccato Germanic fertan, then to fartan in Old English, and finally to its present refinement, fart.

Fart is unpretentious, simple, and above all, onomatopoetically right on target - especially here in New England, where a dialectical pronunciation is closer to faaht, which is pretty darn close to the real sound (a little off target west of the Mississippi; though, not even native Californians roll the R when they farrt).

The dead bullseye, onomatopoetically speaking, of course, is the children's word poop, from the noun poopyhorn. This is easily demonstrated by tightly pursing the lips and expelling a short burst of wind through them. Society, however, chooses to leave poop behind in the nursery of baby words such as doo-doo, pee-pee, bum-bum, nay-nay, and mousie-with-(or without)-the-hat.

Fart also tops all other countries in onomatopoetics. In Russia, you don't fart, or even poop. You {word with eighteen Cyrillic characters}, and if that's onomatopoetically satisfying, it must be physically jarring. In Germany you furz... A fart in Italy is flato... In Paris, they pet, a neat little verb, when you think about it - pet - well fitted to the cosmopolitan Parisian and to the villager alike.

It's no surprise, really, that France would be right up there contending in fart linguistics. After all, she gave the world Le Petomane, the greatest exponent of the "pet" that ever lived. Le Petomane (his real name was Joseph Pujol) rose to fame and fortune on the stage of the Moulin Rouge in late nineteenth century Paris, where at the height of his unusual career he was earning more than double the box office of his celebrated contemporary, Sarah Bernhardt. Pujol's remarkable talent was his ability to inhale and exhale fresh air through his anus, an odorless performance of music, mimicry, and other dubious feats such as blowing out candles from two feet away. (Naturally, if his gusts were gaseous, he would have torched the people in the good seats.)

Decked out in a red coat, white bow tie, and gloves, and sporting black satin breeches, Pujol's most popular routines were his amazing imitations: "The one...a little girl...; this...the mother-in-law; this...the bride on her wedding night; this...the dressmaker tearing two yards of calico" (a ten second rip that was reportedly an uncanny imitation). Other standards in his popular routine were, of course the sounds of thunder and ("Gunners, stand by your guns! Ready - fire!") canons.

Le Petomane not withstanding, humans have taken remarkably few strides through the ages in understanding, let alone accepting, the fart. Way back in 400 B.C. Hippocrates wrote in his Book of Prognostics: "It is best when wind passes without noise, but is it better that flatulence should pass even thus than it should be retained; and when a man does pass thus, it indicates either that the man is pain or delirium, unless he give vent to the wind spontaneously." Delirium? Perhaps that is why, even 2000 years later, proper Victorian ladies would swoon dramatically if an audible fart sneaked out past the rustling of their bustles.

Insanity and drunkenness have also been singled out. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the miller claims, "First, I want to declare that I am drunk; I know it from the noise I'm making...." And in 1577 another Englishman, Hugh Rhode, wrote in his Booke of Nurture and Schoole of Goode Manners: "Be not lowde where you be, not at the table where you syt; Some men will deems thee dronken, mad, or else to lack thy wit."

Inevitably, the lowly fart became the object of breezy underground satire. In 1722, in the tenth edition of anonymous author's pamphlet, The Benefit of Farting Explained, was printed, "Wrote in Spanish by Don Fart in Hando, translated into English by Obadiah Fizle." And Mark Twain, in 1890, wrote a privately printed parody which was dubbed by fans "A Fart in Queen Elizabeth's Court."

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, indeed, proved dark years for the fart, knocking it down the social ladder to the bottom rungs of acceptance. It had become the object of street slang and derision. A parasite was now called a fart-sucker; one's footman or valet, his fart-catcher. Trousers were your farting crackers. In Ireland, your jaunting car was a farting-trap, probably a sly dig to the horse that pulled it. And if the horse became restless and began walking in circles, he was "like a fart in a colander" - that is, until the later part of the nineteenth century; then he was "like a fart in a bottle." If you "couldn't trust your arse with a fart" you had diarrhea, same as if you "let a brewer's fart, grains and all."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It wasn't until 1976 that serious attention was finally given to the fart. In Minneapolis, a Dr. Michael D. Levitt, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Associate Chief of Research of the Minneapolis Veterans Administration (and probably the world's leading authority on the fart), was contacted by a 28-year old man who complained that his excessive gas was ruining his sex and social lives. Dr. Levitt and his associates took the man's case and in the process of treating him made several important observations concerning the fart, which they detailed in a paper entitled "Studies of a Flatulent Patient" (New England Journal of Medicine, July 29, 1976).

In the article, the doctors pointed out that the fart is composed of five gases: hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane (methane is inexplicably produced by only a third of the population, and it is this lucky group that has floating feces), and smaller amounts of oxygen and nitrogen. The oxygen and nitrogen accumulate in the intestines when air is swallowed, while hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane are produced in the large intestine as the body's last resort in its digestive process....

Undigested foods...are [mostly] complicated sugars that cannot be absorbed by the small intestine, such ... sugars [are] found in cabbage, radishes, and apples; it is the bacteriological breakdown of these sugars in the large intestine which produces gas, giving us the fart, with all its thrust and characteristic odor.

The doctors found further that the average 28-year old man farts 14 (plus or minus 5.6) times a day, quite a bit less that the unfortunate man who originally contacted Dr. Levitt. By his own flatographic estimates, he had been averaging 35 farts daily for two years.

Dr. Levitt performed a flatoanalysis of the man's gas and found it was 70 percent hydrogen, indicating intraluminal production (that is, produced by the lower intestine). Sugar was the suspect, specifically the lactose found in milk. So to test that suspicion, the patient was ordered to drink nothing but milk for two days. Sure enough, on the second day he nearly exploded, farting an incredible 141 times, including a four-hour roll of 70 blasts, a probable world record!

Bizarre as it may seem, surgical patients with gas actually run the risk of exploding. Anyone who has ever struck a match to a fart can testify to its flammable properties, but when the gas is hydrogen, trapped in an intestine, look out. Dr. Levitt tells of a surgeon who was cauterizing a rectal polyp on a patient when a spark touched off the patient's intestinal gas. The explosion blew the doctor backward into the wall, jammed the patient's head into the table, and ripped open six inches of his colon. Fortunately, the doctor recovered and patient survived.

You may ask why do I fart more than my neighbor? Certainly the food you eat and the way you eat it are the two major contributors to farting. If you are an air swallower - if you gulp your food and drink, or take a breath before each swallow, or if you drink from a bottle - you will fart more. Carbonation and chewing gum will also put more air into the fart, hence, more fart into the air.

The lactose in milk can cause lots of gas in people without enough of the enzyme lactase to break it down. Other foods which are known gas producers are bran, onions, cucumbers, raisins, cauliflower, lettuce, coffee, and dark beer. And, of course, the infamous baked bean, which contains the indigestible sugars called trisaccharides.

Look, if you really want a fartless bean, all you have to do is remove the trisaccharides. Simply soak the beans for at least three hours and drain off the water before cooking. That'll do it, mostly, but for extra fart-free beans, keep changing the water the beans are boiling in. The only problem with this method is that along with removing the gas, you will be removing some nutrients....

But why do all that to the baked beans in the first place? Everybody farts, right? ...why the secrecy? Why the taboo? Why does society officially not believe in farts? Why, for heaven's sake, in Emily Post's Etiquette, is there never a mention of passing gas?

It would have been an easy task for her to offer some rules for flatulence; simply by taking a cue from Steve ("Mind if I smoke? No, mind if I fart?") Martin, and substituting fart for smoke (or cigarette) in Chapter 64 of Etiquette, "For Those Who Smoke" becomes a workable code of gastric behavior. For Example:


  • One may not fart in a church or during any religious service or ceremonial proceedings.
  • One may not fart in a sickroom unless the patient himself is farting or unless he specifically says his visitor is welcome to fart.
  • Good taste still forbids farting by a woman on a city street. It should be unnecessary to say that no one should think of farting or lighting a fart when dancing.
  • Farting is still forbidden on local buses and on some coaches on the railroad. These cars are clearly marked "No Farting."
  • Farting is permitted in the mezzanine or loge seats in some movie houses, but never in the main orchestra.
  • Farting is forbidden in most museums, although some have designated areas where it is allowed.
  • Legitimate theaters do not allow farting in the theater proper. It is usually allowed in the outer lobby, and those who wish to fart during the intermission go there to do so. It is perfectly correct for a man who wishes to fart to leave a lady who doesn't, but he should hurry back, and not leave her too frequently.
  • In private situations when there might be some objection, before lighting your fart, always ask, "Do you mind if if I fart?" If there is any in the reply, do your best to refrain from farting until you leave.
  • A man should light a woman's fart if he is close to her, but not if he is on the other side of the table or if it would be awkward in any way.
Not bad. Aside from the obvious gender double-standard, pretty sensible advice, wouldn't you say? Too bad she missed the boat. Well, I didn't. We're in the eighties now, a time of radical conformity, and it's high time people had a little farting etiquette, so here it is. Cut this section out and tape it to your refrigerator, 'cause it's official - and it's modern!


  1. Fart is an acceptable verb and noun.
  2. It is generally appropriate to fart in the presence of one's friends and/or immediate family, so long as the area is ventilated.
  3. When in the company of those other than close friends or family, simply move to an open ventilated part of the room, fart and say, "Excuse me" or if you prefer, "Canadian geese." Never fan the fart back at the others unless specifically asked to do so.
  4. It is often unnecessary to comment on the volume, timbre, pitch, and or olfactory strength of your fart unless someone else comments.
  5. There is little to be said for the rascal who farts in close proximity to an infant emerging from the womb or a person on his deathbed.
  6. It is seldom necessary to fart into the telephone.