Well, apart from those with colostomy bags, I suspect that probably everyone during the course of an ordinary day lets loose at least one emission of “confidential information.” Yet, it comes as no breaking news that discussing it—let alone passing on that information in public—can be more taboo than ventilating any of George Carlin’s “heavy seven” cuss words?
This was not always the case. And Jonathan Swift (expressing himself under the nom de plume Fartinhando Puffindorst, Professor of Bumbast in the University of Cracow) cleared the air of this sonorous subject in his 1722 opus The Benefit of Farting Explained: or Fundamental Cause of the Distempers Incident to the Fair Sex (Proving, a posteriori, most of the disorders entailed on them are owing to flatulencies not seasonably vented). Meanwhile, the prominent Parliamentarian Whig and wit Charles James Fox tooted his own trumpet on the subject in his 1787 An Essay on Wind, in which he resonantly gushes, “Fart loud, I say, and never more be restrained by example, age, rank, or sex, for it is natural and laudable, wholesome and laughable, humorous and comfortable.”
Erasmus of Rotterdam did not shy away from one of the fundamentals of good behavior when he advised youngsters, “To fidget around in your seat, and to settle first on one buttock and then the next, gives the impression that you are repeatedly farting, or trying to fart” (A Handbook on Good Manners for Children). But it is Fox in his essay who exhaustively disburdens himself of the matter. Indeed, he even classifies the different species of afflatus, which are perfectly distinct from each other, both in weight and smell:
First, the sonorous and full-toned, or rousing fart;
Second, the double fart;
Third, the soft fizzing fart;
Fourth, the wet fart;
An fifth, the sullen wind-bound fart.
Regarding the last, he sighs, “It is the most uncomfortable, unhealthy and troublesome of all farts whatever that have been yet discovered, as it comes slowly forth, with a painful sensation and sudden rumbling, like to pent-up air in a volcano, which sometimes produces earthquakes and horrible shakes of the earth from not having a free or open passage for the gas or phlogistic air to escape.” Horrors!
He further breaks down the burble of bursts into “musical farts,” sensibility farts,” “stratagem-detected farts,” “fatal-luxuriant farts,” farting-in-vain farts,” “universal-language farts,” and “wonderful or proxy farts,”—as in the case of the extraordinary Italian farter Signor Trebello “who had the amazing talent of conveying the sound of his farts to any person in the same room, and could (wonderful to relate!) make it sound as if it came out of a pocket, or the mouth, or the ear.” Alas, the gentleman was imprisoned for life for making the Grand Duchess of Tuscany fart several times while in grave conversation with some of her nobles. So, you see from this tale what being a bit waggish will get you. Fox, in the end, sums up with “Fart away then, my brethren, and let farting be in common among you. Vie with each other in producing…the sonorous, full-tone loud fart.
Before departing farting, I quote Benjamin Franklin, “He that lives upon hope will die farting.”
Hemingway put in his two cents as well in his 88 Poems:
“Home is where the heart is, home is where the fart is.
Come let us fart in the home.
There is no art in a fart.
Still a fart may not be artless.
Let us fart and artless fart in the home.”
Yes, in some ways it is the lingua franca. As Jarrod Kintz put forth: “Flatulence is the international language. Speak it with your anus. Hear it through your ears. Listen through your nose.”
As a postscript, Blazing Saddles was a film that truly broke ground by breaking wind. With cowboys stereotypically subsisting on a diet of canned beans in the old oaters, Mel Brooks repeated from time to time that “you can only eat so many beans without some noise happening there.” The resulting fart scene, in which a gang of cowpokes pass gas around a campfire, made movie history. Brooks knew this gag would get a big reaction, so he deliberately made the farts louder to prevent the audience’s laughter from drowning them out. Nevertheless, the petulant poots were muted in the TV release. Who said, all’s well that ends well?