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What purpose does "gleeking" serve? Where is the word derived from? And do you even know what I'm talking about?

-- Brian, Clairemont

As if things weren't crazy enough around here, we're wearing rain ponchos all day, and Grandma Alice is busy covering the place with drop cloths. I try to keep questions like this out of the elves' hands so they don't get ideas in their heads, but I guess the system broke down this time. For the last week Alice Acres has been one big gleekathon, and we're not happy about it.

For anyone not up on weird, gross schoolkid pranks, gleeking is an advanced form of spitting. It's popular coast to coast and has been for decades, I'm told. Many of us have gleeked accidentally, but apparently if you find a mentor to give you instruction and you abandon homework and all other activities, you can eventually train yourself to gleek at will. Gleeking is spraying saliva from under your tongue. It comes out in a mist, not the traditional, unimaginative glob. And I can hear you all now -- Hey, Matt, how is this possible? You lift up your tongue and spray saliva? Tell me more!

You know how sometimes, especially when you get a yawn attack and you bust out in a big old gaper that just takes over your face, sometimes saliva spurts out of your mouth? Well, that's gleeking. Your jaw and mouth have dozens of muscles, and sometimes you'll be doing some mouth thing and hit just the right combination and you'll squeeze the ducts that run out of your sublingual salivary glands. Ordinarily the ducts just sit there passively like water pipes while the glands ooze out saliva to keep our mouths juicy. Squeezing them forces the saliva out in a spray; we can't gleek again until they refill.

So to answer your "what's the purpose?" question, there's no purpose. At least not physiologically. Sociologically there's no real purpose either, I guess, except to amaze your friends and gross them out and get lots of laughs. Where the word comes from is probably unanswerable. But of course, that won't stop me.

"Gleeking" is a word you'll find in a couple of Shakespeare's plays. It's been around in print since the 1500s. Consider Henry V, Act 5, Scene 1 -- "I have seen you gleeking and galling at this gentleman twice or thrice." What it meant in Bill's time was teasing or tricking or making fun of someone. ("Galling" is a harsher form of teasing, more like harassment.) Even though there's some vague similarity between gleeking in the 16th Century and gleeking today, it's unlikely that the old word is related to the 20th-century fad. There was a cartoon character named Gleek on the popular Superfriends show, but kids discovered gleeking long before the cartoon hit the airwaves, so no help there. Where the name came from is as much a mystery as why anybody would bother to learn to do it.

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