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Farting: The big cheese of taboos

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Translation by:

Emily Spencer


Everybody has gas, but rare are those who speak of it. Even mentioning the mere existence of a fart is considered grotesque. This belief is apparent in all social conventions, and has become a widespread phenomenon, making it a long-lasting taboo. 

Who was it that suddenly decided a quick release of winds is repulsive? Even though the true connoisseurs call it 'intestinal gas', farting is only socially acceptable in a humorous context. To be responsible for breaking wind in itself usually evokes feelings of shame. "You're the one that farted? Dude, are you serious?". This question, which sounds more like an accusation, proves just how taboo a fart actually is. 

The bourgeois fart or the baker's fart

Determined to let go of these social tensions, Cafébabel asked its community to send quirky expressions about farting. Even then it was clear to see that the subject evoked discomfort. Several responses were sent through private messages, hinting at the participants' real sense of shame. But this sort of censorship is detrimental, even dangerous. "To be a slave to prejudice can have its repurcussions. Thus, when a woman who - in the name of elegance - has not farted for 12 years, she will be mortified when she finally does." We owe this anecdote to Pierre-Thomas-Nicolas Hurtaut who, in 1751, wrote an essay on the art of farting. According to the author, the "wind" is a victim to prejudice as soon as it leaves one's body. "The compressed air, looking to escape, travels inside the parts of the body and leaves hastily, as soon as it identifies an escape route that politeness prevents us from naming," he writes. The author didn't hold back, and dedicated the final section of his book to a little encyclopedia of farts, classifying them by smell and sound. In five sentences, we start to understand the different between a baker's fart, a bourgeois fart, and even a married woman's fart. 

The best European expressions about farting

The gas lobby

Today, the issue of self-censorship in relation to farting has been brought to the spotlight. It was thanks to the success of German doctor Giulia Enders' book Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ, which explains her point of view. According to Enders, the taboo hinges on our external sphincter, which acts as a referee between our well-being and the external world. "Our sphincters have two control mechanisms: one is internal and has to do with our health, and the other is external and has to make concessions with the external world," she explains. The young scientist believes that farts are useful. "Feelings of digust are there to protect us from danger," she says. "When our body tells us there's a bad smell, we shouldn't pursue it." In Enders' view, understanding the reasons behind this phenomenon will allow us to change our mindset. 

Hurtaut not only thinks farting is useful but also good for society since it "tends to result in laughter and joy." Beyond its ridiculousness, there is an entire cultural debate behind the concept of farting. Enders' analysis agrees with this notion: "For centuries, people thought that the smell of a fart would make you sick, and this has become crystallised in our modern culture." Realistically speaking, our social conventions have not changed. But it harks back to an age-old question: are humans formed by nature or nurture? Since the dawn of time, humans have wanted to free themselves from nature; to emancipate themselves through modern technology. But flatulence is difficult to control. Farting is one of those things that evade technology, which explains why letting one rip often comes with a sense of shame. Holding back is not always the right thing to do, so let there be no false modesty between us - don't hold it in! 

Story by

Safouane Abdessalem

Du piano classique à la presse écrite. Pour Cafébabel, je m'intéresse particulièrement aux questions sociales, économiques et culturelles, tout en gardant un œil sur la politique étrangère. Biculturel, binational & bidouilleur.

Translated from Le pet : pourquoi en faire des caisses ?