Farting is a serious social problem and a deeply personal issue. Even though you might think your own farts smell sweet others can’t smell the roses in them. Most of the literature on farting focuses on fart prevention, fart avoidance, and the effects of farters on fartees. Miss Manners, for example, informs us that it’s OK to fart in bed. Just don’t fan the bedclothes to spread the fumes, which would be sure to get your partner’s attention, as if you were proud of what you had done. Most farters have found difficulty getting downwind of others when the urge arrives and even if adequate ventillation exists the noise itself can cause unwelcome attention. Even if you can keep it quiet and then look annoyed at the next person to fake your innocence, you can’t entirely avoid suspicion. If you find yourself too often in uncomfortable farting situations check with your doctor; you might have a treatable medical condition. Flatulence is a symptom of lactose intolerance as well as a symptom of intestinal problems and diabetes. Let’s hope you don’t have diabetes. At least one case is known of death by farting. The dead man ate only beans and slept in a room without outside air. For obvious reasons, farting is not a common form of suicide. I have heard of one talented individual who could modulate his farts like speach and communicate by farting in English or German. Surely farting will not become a popular alternative for people with vocal injuries. It is said that farting cows in dairies and stockyards are responsible for a significant percentage of methane gases that contribute to global warming. Apparently grass is harder to digest than beans; otherwise, we would probably be eating more grass. But now, in addition to worrying about social and medical aspects of farting, a frequent farter should worry about melting the polar icecaps and flooding coastal cities. Chinese farmers cook and heat their homes with methane derived from human and livestock turds. This and the boyhood prank of lighting a fart with a match suggests that the gas has a potential use for power generation, if it could be captured without great expense or inconvenience. I leave how this could be accomplished to the imagination of adolescents and engineers. Friends of mine kept a book of matches on the back of their toilet. Their idea was to light a match if you filled the room with gas. I suppose the sulphur of the match disguised the smell. If the flame of a match burned up the farts, as they said, it would be dangerous to light a match in some men’s rooms that I have been forced to use. It should not be denied that farting teaches our children many lessons that cannot so easily be learned from religious, educational, or parental instruction: 1. Fart is invisible but is easily discovered by nose or ear. 2. Fart smell moves more slowly than fart sound. 3. Children shouldn’t fart, but grown-ups do it. 4. Grown-ups pretend not to notice farts. 5. Grown-ups notice even if they pretend not to. 6. Although it’s fun to fart, the farter is not immune from the stink. 7. If you try to move away from a fart, it will follow you. 8. Farting is a game played without equipment or rules. 9. In polite society, don’t call a fart a fart. Say, “Billy let out a big one.” Flatulence, making wind, passing gas, cutting the cheese, stink bomb, gas attack—these are some of the common words and phrases for farts and farting. The use and invention of farting terminology provide opportunities for linguistic creativity. It usually isn’t long before a child discovers that farting in the bath makes a funny noise and the bubbles are oddly ticklish, whereas farting in the shower brings no additional pleasure unless it’s that the odor is communicated directly to the nose. The smell of a fart is more various than the diet. Like a connoisseur of wine, one might detect the hint of wood or floral bouquet; however, typically, the overtones predominate. The body might be sacred but the fart, like a spirit in other respects, is profane. In this way, it teaches us about living in the world. Some foods, such as beans, cause more farts. Some cuisines, such as Mexican, have more beans. Peas, broccoli, and other foods also cause farting, but no food has affected the farting world as much as beans, giving rise, for example, to the popular ditty: Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot, the more you toot, the better you feel, so let’s have beans for every meal. However we improve as a culture adolescent boys will likely continue to find amusement in the act of farting, in the avoidance of others’ farts, and in the curious practice of competitive farting. Throughout history, in all cultures, farting has always been amusing. The traditional American gag, the whoopie cushion, makes a farting sound when someone sits on it. The fact that a large musical instrument, the tuba, amuses many because it sounds like farting has no doubt contributed to the popularity of the polka. Farting has a long and noble history. Napolean always farted when he rose on his horse to lead a charge. Newton let out a little fart when the apple hit his head. James Watt invented his steam engine having been inspired by a big long fart. James Maxwell’s original experiments for his kinetic theory of gases were conducted with farts. Orville Wright farted at the end of his first flight when the skids hit the mud at Kitty Hawk. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was having an uncontrollable farting episode when it kicked over the lantern that burned down Chicago. It is not known whether the U. S. President George Bush farted when he lost the election, but his wife, Barbara, farted loudly enough for the press corp to hear. When he was imprisoned, Sir Thomas More grasped the bars of his cell and farted. Genghis Khan didn’t fart. (Little else is known about his personal habits.) In the Miller’s tale, Chaucer wrote about a fart “as greet as it had been a thonder-dent.” Shakespeare mentioned farting in his histories and comedies. Farting, however, is woefully lacking in modern literature. You can take digestive enzymes to reduce farting, and this is highly indicated if a person has trouble farting and the gas causes pain, but most people should just fart more frequently. Some people openly enjoy farting but for most it is a secret pleasure. Even if your farts are unwelcome it isn’t healthy to try to hold them in. If you can’t fart, something is probably wrong with you. If you can’t stop farting, at least you can change your company. If you won’t stop farting, your company can change theirs. Some groups have unnatural expectations of the digestive system; others prefer people who are not loath to fart. No longer in denial, I confess I am a farter. I have farted in department meetings, in elevators, in restaurants, in hospitals, in churches, and in wide-open places where it has seemed Mother Nature vaguely approved. To everyone to whom I have caused discomfort, I am sorry; however, I don’t fart to offend others. I don’t fart to disguise an inability to articulate. I love other people and respect the air we all breathe. I have things to say that I hope others appreciate. I hope that our country is big enough for people who are different, for people who cannot conform, for people who have something to teach us about ourselves and our bodies. I fart for freedom. I fart for those who are afraid to fart. I fart for human interest.
12-29 February 2000