I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
The sound of a well-timed fart can reduce otherwise intelligent and well-balanced people to tears of mirth. It can also cause acute embarrassment when it arrives without permission.
The Science of Farts
Pretty much every living animal passes gas. Coral snakes do so to drive off predators, herring communicate with each other through farts, and manatees change their buoyancy by releasing gas so they can dive by letting a few rip.
Humans can blame flatulence on bacteria. There are trillions of the little blighters in our gut and they work hard to break down food to boost our immune systems and provide us with energy, and vitamins. As the bacteria digest food they create gas and this has to be expelled, that or you have to tolerate an uncomfortable bloated feeling.
The constituent parts of the average fanny burp have been determined by science. (I apologize for putting unwanted images into the mind of the reader but how exactly do researchers gather a sample for analysis?)
The primary contents of the beast are nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen. The active ingredient, which lets us know one has been released even if we haven’t heard it, is hydrogen sulphide; but, it accounts for less than one percent of the total volume.
Output is determined by input, so the pungency of the brute will change according to diet. Fibre-rich, plant-based foods, the very things we are all urged to eat more of, produce stinky gas. The list contains, in part, cabbage, beans, Brussels sprouts, eggs, garlic, onions, dairy products, lentils, ginger, and dried fruit.
In short, food causes farts.
The Pope farts, as does the Queen of England, although they are probably more discreet about it than truckers or construction workers.
Each of us expels between 10 and 20 toots every day. A single fart has the volume of about a golf ball. Add the daily output and you get about a litre of gas. Multiply by 7.5 billion people and it’s a wonder we don’t all have to wear gas masks.
Breaking Wind in Enclosed Spaces
Comedian Billy Connolly once pointed out that the worst place to create bum thunder is in a space suit. However, as the perpetrator and victim are one and the same person there is a sort of fitting symmetry here.
The American poet Robert Bly tells us that “A person who discreetly farts in an elevator is not a divine being, and a man needs to know this.” Should a gas bubble escape without consent in such circumstances the only option available is to turn to a person next to you and quietly say “Sheesh.”
In February 2018, a Transavia Airlines Flight from Dubai to Amsterdam made an emergency landing in Vienna because of flatulence. An extremely gassy passenger, perhaps having over-indulged in hummus, refused to control his butt blasts. The flight crew appealed to the man’s compassion, but he didn’t have any.
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Eventually, fists flew and the pilot plonked his aircraft onto the runway in Vienna. The police arrived and escorted four passengers off the plane, but not the farter. He got to continue on to Amsterdam.
Farts in History
The most lethal fart of all time was one released by a general in Ancient Egypt. In about 570 BCE General Amasis had joined a bunch of rebels who wanted to overthrow King Apries. The monarch sent an emissary to the rebellious general whose response was to expose his buttocks and release his message. The insult prompted the king to send out his army and battle ensued. The body count may have been as high as 10,000 and included King Apries.
Titus Flavius Josephus was a Roman-Jewish historian who tells of a horrific calamity in 44 BCE. As Jews were celebrating Passover in Jerusalem, a Roman centurion lifted his tunic, bent over, and, as the chronicler puts it “spoke such words as you might expect upon such a posture.” A riot followed and an estimated 10,000 people were trampled to death.
But, here comes Roulandus le Fartere to lift our spirits. He was a court entertainer to England’s King Henry II and he had a party piece that he performed at Christmas Day banquets. The 12th century jester’s specialty was a dance called “saltum, siffletum, pettum,” the climax of which was a jump, a whistle, and a fart performed simultaneously.
Now, a talent of that quality needs to be rewarded and so it was for Roulandus le Fartere, the king granted him a manor house and estate in eastern England.
Writers and Gas Blow-Offs
The giants of literature would never stoop so low as to use fart jokes. Oh, yes they would.
Geoffrey Chaucer used the humourous device in The Canterbury Tales in the late 14th century:
“This Nicholas just then let fly a fart
As loud as it had been a thunder-clap,
And well-nigh blinded Absalom, poor chap …”
William Shakespeare, a lover of puns, has a character in A Comedy of Errors say:
“A man may break a word with you, sir; and words are but wind;
Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind.”
Satirist Jonathan Swift wrote an entire book, The Benefit of Farting Explained, on the topic. It was published under the pseudonym “Don Fartinando Puff-Indorst, Professor of Bumbast in the University of Crackow.” Benjamin Franklin did not hide behind a fake name when he published Fart Proudly in 1781.
Mark Twain concealed his identity when he first published Conversation, as it Was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of the Tudors. In this spoof of a diary written by one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting he tells the tale of a gaseous rumble in the court.
Her Majesty inquires “In ye heat of ye talk it befel yt one did breake wind, yielding an exceding mightie and distresfull stink, whereat all did laugh full sore.”
Eventually, Mark Twain confessed his authorship, even though that was a pen name for Samuel Clemens.
More than You ever Wanted to Know about Flatulence
- The Innu, who live in Arctic Canada, had a god called Matshishkapeu, which translates to “The Farting God.” He was, apparently, a god with a sense of humour.
- In the fifth century CE, Saint Augustine described men “have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at will, so as to produce the effect of singing.”
- The Urban Dictionary lists 260 different words and phrases to describe farts including, but not limited to: death breath, colonic calliope, trouser cough, and rectal honk.
- Dr. George T. Chaponda was Malawi’s justice minister when he attempted to pass a bill through the African nation’s parliament that would have criminalized public farting. There was so much ridicule and newspaper headline punning that Dr. Chaponda dropped his proposed 2011 legislation.
- Gum chewing causes people to swallow more air than usual and that leads to increased butt cheek flapping.
- In 2001, Buck Weimer of Pueblo, Colorado was awarded an IgNobel Prize, biology division, for inventing anti-flatulence underpants. The tight-fitting knickers come with an activated charcoal filter to absorb the noxious odours.
- Manichaeism was a mystical religion that thrived in Ancient Persia until about the 14th century. St. Augustine was an adherent who believed that the expulsion of unwanted gas was “freeing divine light from the body.”Author Robin Lane Fox has written that Manichaeism “the only world religion to have believed in the redemptive power of farts,”
- Joseph Pujol was a French cabaret artist who performed under the stage name of Le Petomane (Crazy Farts). His unique talent was that he could synchronize his toots to music, leaving his Moulin Rouge audiences helpless with hysterical laughter.
- HAFE is something that air travellers may be aware of but don’t know it’s been identified as a condition. The letters stand for High Altitude Flatus Expulsion and is caused by the change in cabin pressure having an impact on the intestines of passengers. As 50 percent of aircraft cabin air is recycled, the pong tends to hang about a bit.
- And, the best bit, Adolf Hitler suffered from flatulence and stomach cramps so severed that he sometimes yelped in pain. It’s believed his discomfort was caused by his vegetarian diet.
In some corners of the world a fart is called a “trump.”
- “Fart Facts: 13 Fascinating Truths about Passing Gas.” Beverly Jenkins, Oddee, January 19, 2018.
- “Farting Passenger Forces Plane to Make Emergency Landing.” David Moye, HuffPost,
- February 20, 2018.
- “11 Bizarre Facts About Farting We Bet You Didn’t Know.” Teresa Dumain, thehealthy.com, March 26, 2018.
- “A Social History of England, 900–1200.” Julia Crick and Elisabeth van Houts, Cambridge University Press, 2011.
- “From Fart Gods to Farting out One’s Soul: The Historic Ritualization of Farts.” Ashley Cowie, ancient-origins.net, March 5, 2018.
- “From the Sumerians to Shakespeare to Twain: Why Fart Jokes Never Get Old.” James Spiegel, The Conversation, August 17, 2015.
© 2020 Rupert Taylor
Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on January 20, 2020:
Very humorous article, Rupert.