- Politics and Social Issues
Why Do Men Spit?
Poor Ralph. He has no luck with the girls.
Spitting - Most Agree It's Disgusting
How disgusted are you when you see someone hocking a glob of gunk out of his throat and shooting that loogie onto a sidewalk, onto a stadium’s turf, onto the road from out the car window, directly into your face, and well, resurrect your memory as to where you’ve seen it land.
Does spitting belong to guys only, or is it a behavior that belongs to both sexes? When is spitting acceptable or understandable, and when is it not?
For the record, some people simply can’t spit up a hock that lies deep down in the throat, for physical or emotional reasons. They can cough it up, but they can’t spit it out. I happen to be one of them. When I was a kid and had a pleghmy cough, my mother would say, “Don’t swallow it, spit it up into this hankie.” There was no way I was going to spit gunk into a hand embroidered Irish linen hankie. Nosiree. There are spitters, then there are spit swallowers.
So, why do guys spit? Why do people spit? Why do you spit?
Some Background on Spit and Spitting
Spitting isn’t new; it’s been around for a long time. Let’s consider a few chemical, historical, and cultural aspects of the substance and practice of spitting before coming to a conclusion about why guys spit.
What is spit? Spit, purely speaking, is saliva. Produced all day every day in the mouth, it is mostly water to which is added a slippery element from the salivary glands, mucus from glands in the mouth, plus a few other chemicals including oxytocin and cortisol. Its purpose is to start the digestion process by mixing with the foods you chew. As you can imagine, even pure spit can be loaded with bacteria.
When it comes to using the verb “to spit”, the material which is spat is not so purely defined. In fact, it can be anything from the camel's undigested stomach contents to watermelon seeds to kudu dung.
Early Spitting Evidence Spitting has been around for a long time, as evidenced in ancient civilizations around the world.
Around 2,000 years ago, it was the rage among southwest Native Americans to chew shredded yucca leaves into wads, called quids, and then spit them out. Not much is known about why these early people engaged in this practice, because yucca leaves don’t taste very good and they have no mind-altering or known medicinal properties. However, scientists have had amazing success analyzing these quids for DNA and are using the results to track early migration routes.
More than 3,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians documented quite a lexicon of spells, including those that require spitting. Should you need to hex a foe, spit on one of his belongings. On the other hand, should you need to purge yourself of evil demons, spit heartily and with purpose.
Considering the robust history of spitting, I imagine many people throughout millennia had strong opinions about the practice. I don’t think we are the only ones.
The Symbolism of Spitting There is no doubt that spitting, like other base bodily functions, is drenched in its own symbolic content. As spitting is an act of purging, it can be said that spitting signifies ridding yourself of a bad feeling or a paralyzing fear. Even today, some who are superstitious believe you can rid yourself of bad luck by spitting three times after waking up from a bad dream. Spitting can represent hatred and anger as well, and in this sense it is akin to cursing at or casting spells upon a person or object, just as it was deliberately intended by the ancient Egyptians and many cultures that followed.
Acceptable and Necessary Spitting Apart from the symbolic or subconscious underpinnings of spitting, there are acceptable and necessary reasons for spitting. I think most will agree that there are situations you just can’t get through without it. Examples are getting rid of that nasty infected phlegm my mother insisted I deposit into a lace hankie, discharging the excess mucus that can build up during strenuous physical exercise and potentially interfere with effective breathing, and getting rid of the profuse moisture generated by chewing more modern quids such as chewing tobacco.
Is This Camel Spitting?
Camel Spit Isn't Spit At All
Contrary to popular opinion, camels don’t really spit, and what they eject isn’t spit (in the purest sense) at all. Spitting requires narrowing the lips and then propelling the contents of the mouth outward using a stream of air.
Camels simply fill their mouths with regurgtated food from their fore-stomachs, part their lips, and then fling their heads. This means that you should first, not provoke a camel, and second, keep your distance from a provoked camel.
Camels can fling enough of their partially digested food to cover the upper half of your body.
Photo courtesy amandak27, sxc.hu
Let's Mark Our Territory
So Why Do Guys Practice that Disgusting Kind of Spitting?
It may be just because they can. From the viewpoint of some sociologists, the act of hanging out and spitting just for the hell of it may be a sign of males establishing territory, much like what happens when dogs pee on hydrants or bears scratch their butts against trees. Of course, human males don’t have the olfactory ability to respond to this kind of marking through scent, but they do have the ability to respond through observing gesture. Says sociologist Robert S. McCarl, "Spitting is more than just something coming out of the mouth. It's a way to appear stronger and mark your space…Males are more concerned about turf than women are. You get a group of males together, and there is a lot of posturing going on…It's basically them throwing down a challenge."
Let’s talk about the baseball field for a minute. Who hasn’t witnessed loogies being spat at all times, just about everywhere they can be? I found a fascinating series of comments right from guys’ mouths about why they spit while playing ball. Many younger players openly admit that they do it simply because they think it’s a way to look cool, just like their heroes. Others say it’s a way to relieve tension during the game, especially if you’re in the dugout, warming up, or waiting out a referee’s disputed decision. Here’s my favorite comment about why guys spit in the ballpark: On the baseball field it is acceptable, so every guy out there is getting his fill before he has to go back to the real world and stop.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no universally accepted reason for guys spitting. They've been doing it for thousands of years, and despite laws against spitting as well as negative public opinion, they'll probably be doing it for thousands more.
Not Only Do Guys Like To Spit, They Like to Tell Stories About It
Gals Spit, Too
Women spit, like men do, for many of the same reasons: to show contempt, to ward off evil, and for health reasons. What they don't do, usually, is spit to mark territory. Apparently, once again according to Robert S. McCarl, women in general are less territorial than men; women don't have a tendency to hang out on street corners and posture with their spittle. However, their spitting can be just as shocking. In the 1948 film, Key Largo, Lauren Bacall's character, Norma Temple, disregards any fear she has for the dangerous Rocco, played by Edward G. Robinson, when she sprays his face with perfectly spat spit.
Let's Hear It from the Guys and Gals Who Spit
If you spit, guy or gal, why do you? If the poll questions don't cover your reasons, please feel free to elaborate in a comment.