Fart, fluff, toot and cheese: some interesting facts

Flatulence – we all do it. Between eight and 20 times a day according to the literature. So it’s not surprising we have so many slang expressions to describe the release of gas from the anus.

Let’s kick off with the most common nickname.

Fart

Since everyone has cause to let one go occasionally it’s only logical that we’ve been “farting” for a long time. Despite some references listing it as onomatopoeic, fart stems from the Old English feortan although it wasn’t used as a noun until the 14th century.

According to this quite detailed history of the word, fart has always been considered “vulgar” – Merriam Webster still lists it as such today – however there are many pre-20th century references, such as its use in several of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and an essay by Benjamin Franklin.

Interestingly, rhyming slang for fart, raspberry tart, spawned the more-than- acceptable-in-polite-company expression to “blow a raspberry”, which less face it, is just a fart imitation.

Cutting the cheese

It’s hard to track down the origin of this expression. Since I don’t have the volumes in questions (and they aren’t free online) I’m going to have to trust Rude Boy’s research in his detailed explanation on The Phrase Finder.

“Cut” has been used for flatulence since the 1800s, as testified by several sources and continued today in the mainly American expression, “To cut a fart”. Rude Boy says cheese was introduced to the mix in the late 1960s, citing the Dictionary of American Regional English.

Another on-line forum insists “cheeser”, meaning a “strong smelling fart”, was first coined in 1811 in the UK. I can’t find this reference anywhere else so I’m a little sceptical.

Of course, the simple answer is probably the right one, referring to the strong odour that emanates when the rind is cut on some of the more pungent cheese varities.

Whatever the origin I doubt it had anything to do with the expression “to cut a big cheese”, meaning to be someone important, stemming from the early 1900 practice of placing oversized wheels of the dairy product on display.

Getting those two confused could be quite embarrassing!

Fluff

Why fluff came to mean flatulence is anyone’s guess (since the internet can’t tell me). The Oxford English Dictionary suggests fluff is an onomatopoeic variant of floow – 1580s, woolly substance, down, nap – that imitates the sound of “puffing away some light substance”.

Combine this with the idea that ladies “fluff” while men “fart” and I think you can see where my brain is going.

The other option is it stems from 1880s’ theatre slang for messing up one’s lines, which later entered the vernacular to cover any kind of mistake. Some would suggest letting “fluffy off the chain” in public is certainly an error!

And that leads nicely to the real reason for including fluff in this list – spreading the Australianism mentioned in the previous sentence. (Check out the video from Preschool Music, a kids album written and produced by Brett Johnson.)

Toot, proot

This is pretty straight forward really. A horn or trumpet makes a tooting sound and so does your bum.

Proot probably comes from blending toot and poop. While more commonly used today for excrement, poop, in the sense of “to break wind softly”, has been around for two decades longer.

Be careful though when and where you use this supposedly innocent word, it can also mean, drugs, a smoking implement, cocaine, snorting drugs, a prostitute or to have sex.

 

Interesting snippets picked up in research

  • The average adult passes between 0.5 and 1.5 litres of gas each day, split over 8-20 occasions
  • The smell is caused by less than 1% of the total gas released
  • A farting app for iPhone raked in $10,000 in one day
  • More than 100 words for flatulence from the ABC
  • The Letting Fluffy off the Chain Facebook page has 102 likes
  • The scientific study of flatulence is called flatology. If you study hard enough you could become a master farter (sorry, that is so lame).

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