I missed the dog turd but stepped in spit!
August 20, 2006 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Why do people spit?

I never spit. Ever. Except when I am sick, in which case I do it into a hanky. My parents never taught me not to, I just never feel the need to void my mouth of saliva. So why do people do it? Is it something some guys do as a masculine signifier? (I never see women spit) Do spitters' mouths generate too much saliva? What is behind this nasty habit?
posted by lazy robot to Society & Culture (26 answers total)
 
deja vu
posted by grumblebee at 6:19 AM on August 20, 2006


D'oh!.....Thanks grumblebee, this lazy robot should have done a more thorough search than the one I didn't actually do.
posted by lazy robot at 6:24 AM on August 20, 2006


Because of a buildup of mucous in the mouth and an urge to dispose of such mucous without swallowing.
posted by furtive at 6:24 AM on August 20, 2006


I don't get it either. I think spitting on the field should be banned from MLB.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2006


Lots of people spit. My own dear brother spits (right on the sidewalk). It's either a habit or the result of gum disease (as seen in dhartung's typically excellent comment in the previous thread). I don't care for the habit but don't find it as disgusting as many people clearly do (including my wife—it's her least favorite thing about baseball); on the other hand, I was largely raised in East Asia, so I'm used to a lot of things that Americans tend not to be used to.
posted by languagehat at 7:21 AM on August 20, 2006


In that old thread, some people said that they spit when they had to spit. Maybe, if they've got a disease. But judging by the appearance and behavior of the repetitive spitters I see on the street every day, it's a scruffy, tough-guy, territorial, male (usually teenager) thing. Unless I'm seeing transvestite upper-class women slumming it, females rarely spit and males who appear to have upper or middle income (or any, for that matter) don't spit, not in public.

And it's not that spitters have too much saliva in their mouths; I've seen enough spitting to know that many can barely gather enough saliva together to spit a decent ball of it out, not after spitting a number of times in one sitting, but they keep trying, as if they've got to keep their patches of the pavement wet.

Spitters also tend to do all the standard tough-guy slouching and swaggering and trying really hard to look to everybody as if they don't care how they look to anybody.
posted by pracowity at 8:26 AM on August 20, 2006


it's a scruffy, tough-guy, territorial, male (usually teenager) thing

females rarely spit

I'm a girl and I spit all the time, and know lots of girls who do. But when I do, I try to be somewhat discreet about it - if it's broad daylight I'll try to spit on the street or in an alley (never the sidewalk). I see what you mean, though - spitting to make the statement "fuck you, I don't care about the world and I'm a badass." But that isn't always the case.

The weird thing about spitting is once you start spitting often, you have to do it more and more. I think your body produces more saliva to compensate, but it's a vicious cycle, because then you have to spit more.
posted by SassHat at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2006


I'm sure there are a myriad of reasons of why some people spit (dental issues, smoking, foreign substance in your mouth etc.) but the action itself is disgusting. What is so difficult about finding a washroom or using a tissue or handkerchief (if it's epidemic)?

I think it's a lot like littering. It's something you no longer want to hold on to so you just toss it away at your earliest convenience without any regard for the environment or those people around you.
posted by purephase at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2006


I hate it when people spit right onto the middle of the sidewalk, when you're walking right behind them. If you have to spit, at least spit in the street. People are walking around in flip flops and stuff-- I hate it when there is a spit river in front of my apartment. It's all shiny and bubbly and takes forever to evaporate, and sometimes there's bits of phlegm floating in there... yuck. Major pet peeve.

I see girls spitting all the time, not trying to hide it, though they usually are those "hoochie" 15 year olds with something to prove. I understand that people spit when they have a bad taste in their mouths. But still when I see someone doing it on the sidewalk, I immediately think they are poorly-mannered. (I'm a spit snob, I guess. Oh well.)
posted by np312 at 9:04 AM on August 20, 2006


spitting in public is disgusting. there are actually signs in the subway telling people not to spit (i think this has to do with age-old TB stuff; they are old signs). of course they still spit.
posted by sdn at 9:17 AM on August 20, 2006


> I'm a girl and I spit all the time

Where you're from, I guess some girls spit, but not here. (Or they sneak away and do it where no one can see it.)

But you're in a perfect position to answer the question, at least for you and maybe your pals. Why do you spit? Is it your "fuck you, I don't care about the world and I'm a badass" statement?
posted by pracowity at 9:42 AM on August 20, 2006


it's a scruffy, tough-guy, territorial, male (usually teenager) thing

Uh, my brother is gay, neatly dressed, and non-territorial. He is male, though. Keep those stereotypes coming!

the action itself is disgusting
spitting in public is disgusting


You realize "disgusting" means "disgusting to me," right? There is no objective meaning to "disgusting," any more than there is to "ugly" or "tasty." You're disgusted? Fine, but a lot of people aren't. Don't generalize.
posted by languagehat at 9:44 AM on August 20, 2006


> Uh, my brother is gay, neatly dressed, and non-territorial.

As you are wont to trumpet, people in different places do different things. Your brother may be gay, neatly dressed, and non-territorial, but he has nothing to do with the people I see here, and if he did live around here he'd still be the exception by the sound of it.
posted by pracowity at 10:28 AM on August 20, 2006


Don't generalize.

As you already point out, just about anything someone writes in AskMe is assumed to be prefaced with "I think", thus I think your statement is pointless.

There's a long-standing tradition among humans to keep their bodily fluids contained. Maybe it goes back to Ye Olden Times when "leaking" fluids meant there was something wrong with your body. For whatever reason, we are socially conditioned to feel shame about it. Thus spit, snot, piss, farts, blood and a bunch of other things belong in the body until you've found a private place to dispose of whatever it is you're holding on to (ergo, the invention of the bathroom).

Where it most certainly should not be disposed of is directly in front of someone walking down the street. You know... wind and all that. I think spitting is a disguisting habit, akin to picking your nose in public, but I don't have a vendeta against spitters (/nosepickers /public urinators) provided they're considerate of the public at large. If your spit catches an updraft and hits me, expect a beating.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2006


I have pretty bad sinuses and asthma so sometimes (this is really weather dependent) I get a lot of really sticky phlegm that I need to either spit or swallow, and if I swallow, I might be puking on the sidewalk in a minute .. Seriously I think this is more akin to blowing your nose than to picking it, because it's not like the ground isn't already full of dog urine and tons of skin cells.

I guess it's different for smokers and people with the "excess spit" complaint, but couldn't it just be biologically necessary to expel chunks that are blocking your airways?
posted by shownomercy at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2006


It's probably more of a sensory thing for me. I like how it feels when I spit. I like to see it fly through the air. I like to watch it land on things/the ground.

I've found that it's somewhat addicting for me. That is, the more I do it, the more I want to do it.

My wife does not share my appreciation for spitting, so I try to limit it around her, and in public.
posted by Jesco at 11:59 AM on August 20, 2006


When hayfever kicks in for me, it kicks in fast and wicked hard. All of a sudden there's water pouring from the eyes, snot flooding the nose, and mucous (ugh) clogging my throat and mouth. Tissues can only do so much to keep up with the onslaught. I spit so I can keep on breathing. Fuck propriety.

(not male, not blue collar, not giving a damn about who's more badass than whom)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:21 PM on August 20, 2006


I'm just pointing out for the benefit of runners everywhere (and I guess any other cardiovascular sports) that after breathing hard for a long time, it is common to get mucous up your throat even without horking, and when your mouth is already dry, it's hard to get rid of it by swallowing, so sometimes we spit. I personally don't try to hide the spitting, but I won't spit on the sidewalk.
posted by bread-eater at 8:16 PM on August 20, 2006


I see generalization has already been frowned upon, but I think it's worth saying that I, though I try hard not be a judgmental person, automatically think of someone as low class if I see them spit on the ground. I doubt I'm alone.

Hocking a big loog, even if exercising or suffering from the worst hayfever, is also pretty disgusting for anyone else nearby. At least I think so.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:40 PM on August 20, 2006


I spit to clear nasty post-nasal drip or general throat snot. I am female. I live the SF Bay Area. Many Asians spit here, as well. From my studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I learned phlegm is a thing which one wants outside one's body. I'm glad I live somewhere this is not broadly frowned upon. If someone cares to judge me or the action as uncouth or unladylike, it's likely a good mutual filter. I would probably find them an insufferable prig with a bug up their ass about germs, hygiene, oral sex, etc.
posted by eegphalanges at 10:02 PM on August 20, 2006


I'm just pointing out for the benefit of runners everywhere (and I guess any other cardiovascular sports) that after breathing hard for a long time, it is common to get mucous up your throat even without horking, and when your mouth is already dry, it's hard to get rid of it by swallowing, so sometimes we spit.

Yep. I generally don't spit, but when I was running track years ago I did spit. A lot. I very quickly got used to the idea of spitting while exercising (well, heavy aerobic exercising, at least) as not only being not disgusting, but perfectly acceptable (though, my form of etiquette always required me to spit off to the side, away from the track/sidewalk).
posted by Stauf at 10:09 PM on August 20, 2006


From my studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I learned phlegm is a thing which one wants outside one's body.

I've never read any (real) medical advice that suggested spit was somehow harmful to the human body. If it were, I seriously doubt the body would be so good at creating it in the first place.

Many Asians spit here, as well.

Yes, spitting is fairly common in most Asian countries. Thankfully some civilized (Asian) countries recognize how disguisting the habit is and have passed laws against it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:46 PM on August 21, 2006


Singapore always reminds me of Woody Allen's Bananas, where everyone must wear their underwear on the outside. You can't have a durian on the subway, either. What's a morning commute without your daily durian, I ask you? God knows what the punishment might be!
posted by eegphalanges at 11:04 PM on August 21, 2006


Durian:
Wallace cautions that "the smell of the ripe fruit is certainly at first disagreeable"; more recent descriptions by westerners can be more graphic. The English novelist Anthony Burgess famously said that dining on durian is like eating vanilla custard in a latrine. Travel and food writer Richard Sterling says:

... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia.

The unusual odour has prompted many people to search for an accurate description. Comparisons have been made with the civet, sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray, and used surgical swabs.
You would ban it from the subway, too, wouldn't you?
posted by pracowity at 1:51 PM on August 22, 2006


Oral sex is banned in Singapore, too. There goes my "durian juice and spit rim job while chewing gum in a nice hotel" vacation plans. Civilization is once again saved.
posted by eegphalanges at 10:39 PM on August 22, 2006


On second thought, it might be worth it for the caning afterward.
posted by eegphalanges at 10:43 PM on August 22, 2006


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