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Why the Tongue Sticks to Metal in the Winter

Updated on October 24, 2014
Movie still from the Christmas classic, A Christmas Story.
Movie still from the Christmas classic, A Christmas Story.

In the movie, A Christmas Story, Flick was dared by Schwartz to touch his tongue to the metal flagpole. This all started because Flick argued that it wasn't possible for a person's tongue to stick to a cold, metal flagpole. Although when dared, Flick was still apprehensive about doing it but as the movie said a double-dog dare is serious business but a triple dog dare is the "coup de grace of all dares". Flick felt no other choice but to put his money where his mouth is literally.

Although they used a suction cup in the movie to make it appear as if Flick's tongue was really stuck to the flagpole, in real life many people attempt this out of curiosity and find out that although the scene is funny in the movie, it isn't funny in real life; at least for the person stuck to the pole. For the people witnessing it, that's a whole other story in most cases.

Having your tongue stuck to a cold, metal pole can be quite painful and there is a good, scientific reason why. Metal is actually a great conductor for heat. When the warm tongue hits cold metal, such as a metal flagpole, heat is transferred from the person's saliva on the tongue to the metal. As long as the metal is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it will literally freeze the tongue to the metal in a matter of seconds depending on exactly how cold the metal is. The colder the metal is, the faster the freeze time.

According to Frank J. DiSalivo, a professor at Cornell University, heat is transferred away from your tongue, which has a higher temperature, to the metal surface, which has a lower temperature. This is considered a form of thermal conductivity. The fact that the body is a constant source of warmth, body heat is being transferred to the pole, thus leaving the tongue stuck to the metal surface.

Most people would think that because the body is a constant source of warmth, that it should keep the tongue from freezing to the metal surface. Not necessarily. The constant heat is neither warm enough nor released fast enough to detach the tongue naturally.

Although it can be humorous to on-lookers, the person attached to the pole would probably like to be detached as quickly as possible. So if you happen to find yourself in a situation where your tongue is stuck to a metal object, whether intentionally or unintentionally, do not attempt to pull your tongue free from the metal object. Even though this is the initial response to the dilemma, ultimately, you may leave the top layer of your tongue attached to the metal object.

To safely remove your tongue from a metal object, you are going to have to gradually loosen your tongue from the metal with something warm. This will melt the frozen area long enough to detach the tongue from the metal surface. Most people go straight to using their warm breathe but this doesn't always help. In fact, it may make it worse.

Instead, simply use warm water to loosen the tongue from the metal surface. This is a safer way to remove a frozen tongue from a metal pole. The tongue may be sore for awhile but at least it is still intact.

Although there are safe ways to remove the tongue from a metal surface, the best advice is don't do it at all. Even though most people are generally put up to doing it by people they know; if you stick your tongue to a metal surface when by yourself the humor fades away quickly as you try to figure out how to detach your tongue safely with minimal damage.

Have you or someone you know ever stick your tongue to a cold, metal pole?

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© 2014 L Sarhan


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    • Joyfulcrown profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you for the information. I always wondered if it was true but was too scared to find out for myself.

      Happy New Year

    • 1701TheOriginal profile image

      Leonard Kelley 

      4 years ago

      Nice hub on a common occurrence! Always good to explore these.


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