With an increasingly difficult energy crisis maybe the answer is indeed, as Bob Dylan speculated, “Blowin in the wind”.
However, the issues surrounding wind are not new as ‘passing wind’ is of course a universal human and animal experience with a long and questionable cultural history!
The English word fart is indeed one of the oldest words in the English lexicon and is closely linked to many other Indo-European Languages. Everyone does it! In terms of grammar we can think of a fart as being both a verb and a noun as it can be both an act and a thing.
As routine as eating, breathing and sleeping, its associated humour wafts across different cultures and the winds of time. It has been claimed that the Roman Emperor Claudius issued an edict, which allowed for farting at the dining table, after hearing of a man who had almost died while holding it in while banqueting with him! Claudius was also reputed to be quite keen on the activity himself.
It also scents our literary history. One well-known example appears in Chaucer’s fourteenth century Canterbury Tales. In the Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Absalom are vying for the same girl, and Nicholas decides to humiliate his rival. So he waits at the window for Absalom to beckon the girl. And just when he does, Nicholas’ rear protrudes to
“… let fly a fart with a noise as great as a clap of thunder, so that Absalom was almost overcome by the force of it.”
Even William Shakespeare, resorted to flatulence puns and in his play The Comedy of Errors, Dromio of Ephesus states:
“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.”
Meanwhile, Jonathan Swift, the author of the classic Gulliver’s Travels, devoted an entire book to the subject with, ‘The benefit of Farting Explained.’ (Swift published it under the pseudonym “Don Fartinando Puff-Indorst, Professor of Bumbast in the University of Crackow.”)
“The Earle of Oxford, making his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. Upon his return home, the Queen greeted him, reportedly saying, ‘My Lord, I had forgot the Fart’.”
The word is often considered merely a light profanity with a humorous connotation or as a gentle rebuke or insult. For example, a person may be referred to as an ‘old fart’ or a ‘little fart’ but rarely a ‘big fart.’ Clearly size matters. Although it is often only used as a term of endearment when the subject is personally well known to the user. Rhyming slang created the ‘raspberry tart’, which was associated with the phrase ‘blowing a raspberry’. Recently the word has become more prevalent, and now features in children’s literature, such as the Walter the Farting Dog series of children’s books, Robert Munsch‘s Good Families Don’t and The Gas We Pass by Shinta Cho.
In theatre Joseph Pujol who performed under the name Le Pétomane, which translates to ‘fart maniac’, performed a stage act for the Paris music hall scene. While more recently Paul Oldfield, who performed under the name Mr. Methane, performed a stage act that included him farting the notes of music. In film any taboos were somewhat blown away in the Blazing Saddles farting scene and the Pink Panther ‘fart in a lift’ sequence.
The word has also created a hundreds of euphemisms such as, ‘the backdoor breeze’, ‘blowing the butt bugle’ and ‘a trouser cough’. It has also led to questions such as, ‘did someone tread on a duck?’ or unjustly passing the blame onto the dog.
Others will consistently look to blame others, to cover up, distract and deflect from the stink that they are responsible for.
PS: More seriously, wind power is not just hot air as it contributed 24.8% of UK electricity supplied in 2020, having surpassed coal in 2016 and nuclear in 2018. It is the largest source of renewable electricity in the UK. Three cheers for the Power of Wind!