Sunday, August 21, 2005


Crackling Wind

Jim Dawson, Who Cut the Cheese? A Cultural History of the Fart (Berkeley: TenSpeed Press, 1999), p. 21:
First there's crepitate (to fart), from the Latin crepitare (to rattle) and crepitus ventris (a fart, literally crackling wind)...
Dawson's translation of crepitus ventris is incorrect in two respects: (1) he makes crepitus an adjective, when in fact it's a noun, and (2) ventris has nothing to do with wind -- it's the genitive singular of venter (belly, stomach). The phrase means "a crackling (rattling, rumbling) of the stomach," not "crackling wind." It might be OK to translate English breaking wind idiomatically in Latin as crepitus ventris, provided that we recognize that the literal Latin phrase has no wind in it. Crackling wind in Latin would be crepitans ventus.

Although they share the same first four letters, Latin ventus (wind) and venter (belly) are etymologically unrelated. For the root of ventus, see Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Woerterbuch, pp. 81-84, and Calvert Watkins, Indo-European Roots, s.v. we-. For the root of venter, see Pokorny, pp. 1104-1105, and Watkins, s.v. udero-.

The phrase crepitus ventris occurs in Suetonius' Life of Claudius 32 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He is even said to have thought of an edict allowing the privilege of breaking wind quietly or noisily at table, having learned of a man who ran some risk by restraining himself through modesty.

dicitur etiam meditatus edictum, quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, cum periclitatum quendam prae pudore ex continentia repperisset.
A similar phrase, strepitus ventris, occurs in Suetonius' Life of Lucan 2 (tr. J.C. Rolfe):
He was recalled from Athens by Nero and made one of his intimate friends, besides being honored with the quaestorship; but he could not keep the emperor's favor. For, piqued because Nero had suddenly called a meeting of the Senate and gone out when he was giving a reading, with no other motive than to throw cold water on the performances, he afterwards did not refrain from words and acts of hostility to the princeps, which are still notorious. Once for example in a public privy, when he relieved his bowels with an uncommonly loud noise, he shouted out this half-line of the emperor's, while those who were there for the same purpose took to their heels: "You might suppose it thundered 'neath the earth."

revocatus Athenis a Nerone cohortique amicorum additus atque etiam quaestura honoratus, non tamen permansit in gratia. siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit: "sub terris tonuisse putes."
For the comparison of thunder with breaking wind, see also Aristophanes, Clouds 382-394 (tr. anon.):
STREPSIADES. But you have not yet told me what makes the roll of the thunder?

SOCRATES. Have you not understood me, then? I tell you, that the Clouds, when full of rain, bump against one another, and that, being inordinately swollen out, they burst with a great noise.

STREPSIADES. How can you make me credit that?

SOCRATES. Take yourself as an example. When you have heartily gorged on stew at the Panathenaea, you get throes of stomach-ache and then suddenly your belly resounds with prolonged rumbling.

STREPSIADES. Yes, yes, by Apollo! I suffer, I get colic, then the stew sets to rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific noise. At first it's but a little gurgling, pappax, pappax! then it increases, papapappax! and when I take my crap, why, it's thunder indeed, papapappax! pappax!! papapappax!!! just like the clouds.

SOCRATES. Well then, reflect what a noise is produced by your belly, which is but small. Shall not the air, which is boundless, produce these mighty claps of thunder?

STREPSIADES. And this is why the names are so much alike: crap [πορδή, pordé] and clap [βροντή, bronté].

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