Farts and Flatulence Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Farts and Flatulence

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A young boy... letting one rip.

It's possible that the following quotes have been taken out of context, but who knows?

  • Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full. He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. (Psalms 78, 24)

  • And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, there will be heat; and it cometh to pass. (Luke 12, 54)

  • He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow. (Psalms 147, 17)

Some of the objects in question surely can water your eyes, and suffering from a bout of flatulence cannot be kept secret for long.


The winds in question consist of a mixture of gases such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen sulphide. Hydrogen sulphide is the component which is to blame for the irritating effect on the olfactory organs of one's companions. These gases are produced by bacteria which live in your large intestine and, as a part of digestion, break down food into elementary substances like amino acids, glucose and fatty acids. The bacteria are living in symbiosis with you, and the gases are just by-products of their important work.

The composition of one's nutrition has a strong influence on the amount of gases. Some items are renowned for their effects:

  • Beans, lentils, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, peas, soybeans.
  • Garlic and onions.
  • Bread and beer can lead to gases as well, especially when switching to a different brand.
  • Antibiotics which kill the bacteria in your stomach.

Foods which are rich in sulphur (predominantly cauliflower, eggs and meat) will lead to the smellier variety of gas. The vegetables mentioned above contain some kinds of carbohydrates which the human digestion system cannot handle properly. Another non-digestible carbohydrate is Sorbitol (a sugar substitute) which can be found in diet items like jam, sweets or chewing gum. In general, a high fibre diet is beneficial for a human's health. However, flatulae are the price to be paid for that.

Apart from some ingredients of a diet, flatulence can also be caused by deficiencies like lactose intolerance, which is the lack of an enzyme required for digesting dairy products in the stomach and small intestine. If the enzyme is missing then lactose (the milk sugar in dairy products) passes untouched into the large intestine where the bacteria reside.

Another cause can be found in the eating procedure itself: sudden changes in one's diet, swallowing too much air or insufficiently chewing one's food can also lead to wind. Most swallowed air will leave the body as a belch, but part of it enters the digestive system. Furthermore, flatulence can be a side-effect of diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), appendicitis and gallstones.

Who Farts Most?

Irrespective of the diet, loosing some 12 to 40 'winds' (that is, 0.5 to 2.0 litres of gas) per day is normal, and concerns should only be raised if these numbers are significantly exceeded.

The cellulose in vegetables cannot be digested, therefore vegetarians produce more gas than people with a mixed diet. There is no difference in the chemistry of male and female digestion, hence men and women emit the same amounts of gas. However, men apparently have more fun doing it.

In the Jurassic Park movie, the location of herbivorous dinosaurs was determined through the detection of their methane emissions. Be this movie fiction or not, animals account for 30% of methane in the atmosphere, second only to rice fields and swamps. Despite such delicacies as hot Texas chilli or cauliflower gratin, humans only account for less than 5% of atmospheric methane.

Animals' Farts

Dogs' farts are really hard to stand. Their gases could be caused by:

  • Milk (especially if the pet is lactose-intolerant)
  • Carbohydrates like sugar, starch, and soybeans. Soybeans can make up a significant proportion of pet food.

Thus, it may be advisable to switch to a different brand of pet foot. Otherwise, it is a good idea to check the wind direction before approaching little Fido.

Farts On Fire

The presence of methane and oxygen renders the whole mixture flammable. If tried at all, igniting a fart should be tried out extremely carefully. Setting fire to a fart can 'backfire'! Besides, you should have a good explanation ready because the whole affair is somewhat difficult to explain to rescue and surgery personnel if it goes wrong.

Counteracting Flatulence

Recommended means for counteracting flatulence are:

  • Lowering the carbohydrate content of a diet.

  • Walking - because it stimulates digestion.

  • Using food ingredients like fennel (infusion or seeds), aniseed, peppermint, coriander or chamomile. Two or three ginger berries, chewed after a meal, have also been mentioned as remedies (not recommended during pregnancy). Substances which reduce the amount of gas produced during digestion are called carminatives.

  • Getting rid of the processed food by defecation.

Holding back one's wind can avoid embarrassing situations. But it is no long-term option as the gas mixture is then absorbed in the blood stream and is exhaled as a bad breath.

Synonyms - the Wind of Change

Synonyms for 'fart' or 'farting' abound, and this list definitely isn't complete:

... breaking wind, passing wind, southerly wind, morning thunder, cutting the cheese, stepping on a toad, cutting loose, air bubble, gassers, stinkers, air biscuits, low-flying ducks, barking spiders, rotten eggs, wet ones, poots, pump, trump, parp and biff, etc.

Farting Etiquette

In the middle ages, loudly breaking wind was an act of appreciation to the housewife: Martin Luther is quoted as supposedly having said Warum rülpset und furzet ihr nicht, hat es euch denn nicht geschmecket? ('Why don't you belch and fart, did you not enjoy the meal?'1). This rule of behaviour has now been abandoned and gas should be released only after having stepped outside. Persistent failure to abide by this rule may lead to social isolation.

Some more points are:

  • If you are a real gentleman and realise that a lady had some small misfortune then you are supposed to plead guilty in her place and formally excuse yourself.

  • If you cannot blame the dog because there aren't any around, you may try to shoot an embarrassed look at the nearest of your companions. However, everybody knows this trick and it is extremely likely to fail. The same is true for raising your volume while speaking, or moving your chair in an attempt to cover the sound.

  • Pretending to be innocent can help, but only if you manage to keep yourself from asking questions like 'Ooooh, who did that?'. Because everybody knows that whoever smelt it, dealt it, or whoever denied it, supplied it.

  • Farts can bring more excitement into wedlock if administered in a Dutch Oven2: this is where one partner lets go a huge fart, pulls the duvet cover or bed sheets over the head of their loved one, trapping them in a confusion of methane, while shouting triumphantly, 'Dutch oven! Dutch oven!' The person trapped will wriggle like an eel, the trapper will then nearly die laughing and it will all end up in a really boisterous play fight. Of course, this is all in questionable taste.

  • Passing wind in a lift is strongly advised against. There is no way for the victims to escape or open a window, and revenge may follow immediately.

  • It is wise to stay clear of suspect food well before such important occasions as a job interview, the school ball, receiving a Nobel prize, or asking your girlfriend the 'big' question.

  • You should know what's about to happen if someone stretches out their hand to you and asks you to pull their finger. There's danger ahead. Don't do it!

  • If everything else fails and everybody is staring at you, you may try to turn the wrongdoing into an accomplishment: put on a proud face, declare it as an achievement, and challenge your mates to beat you with an even louder one. But be prepared for a reply along the lines of 'Pray for your soul because your body is already rotten.'


The dynamic range of a fart can stretch from 'inaudible' to 'close to deafening'. Without going into too much detail, the sounds are produced by a mechanism comparable to the method used for making music with a brass instrument. There are some artists around who can pass gas on command and even 'play' little tunes. A famous artist of the early 1900s was Joseph Pujol (1857-1945) alias Le Petomane who earned a living from his ability to inhale air into his rectal orifice and to expel it in a variety of noises and tunes. During performances in the famous Moulin Rouge theatre in Paris, he also smoked cigarettes and extinguished candles with his behind, to which a tube was attached. He was a true ventriloquist, one might say.

A relation between volume and flavour of a fart has not been identified. But some people swear that it is the 'silent but violent' ones which can kill olfactive cells up a victim's nostrils.

Further Smelling

1This quote has been identified as a hoax. But whoever it was who said it, expressed the normal behaviour of the time.2Quoted from Aphrodisiacs or Other Things to Get You in the Mood.

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