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Matt or Grandma Alice:

Can you pinpoint when it was exactly that farting became a social faux pas? Flatulence is totally natural. My twin sons fart all the time. Why when someone farts in, say, an elevator is it considered rude?

-- Perplexed about fart faux pas, the net

About a year ago, Pa Alice took all of Grandma's etiquette books and used them to build a new coffee table. And I was so sure we'd answered every possible fart question, I had the elves put our old research notes in the attic with Grandma's Welcome-in-the-Millennium party decorations she's convinced we'll need again some day, so we'll be very sorry if we throw them out now. About the only fart fact we can come up with ad lib is that each of us does it an average of 14 times a day, according to a real medical study conducted by real doctors. And most are not the noisy, malodorous blasts we tend to associate with flatulence. So if a fart happens in the forest, but it doesn't smell bad, is that really a fart? Perplexed and I just say yes. So what's so faux pas about that? Especially when it's stereophonic farts from the adorable little Perplexeds.

We couldn't find any record of cave paintings with fart jokes in them, but flatulence was just as funny 2500 years ago in Greece as it is today in South Park. You'll find references in many plays of the era and art and political cartooning after that. If it weren't for intestinal gas, would Chaucer have had a career? (Hmmmm�potential dissertation topic? A lively discussion session for the next Modern Language Society meeting?) Farts have always been funnier, that is, more embarrassing than burps, and they've been the source of social and political humor since, well, forever.

So when did somebody arbitrarily decide you couldn't rip one at a fancy dinner party? Biographies of the Roman emperors invariably mention Claudius's effort to pass a law making flatulence at the dinner table perfectly acceptable, which must mean that before 41 AD or so, it was not. (Claudius believed suppressing a fart was medically unsound.) Medieval etiquette books warn that farting should be avoided in social situations. So I'm sorry, Perplexed. Farting has always been more than we ever wanted to know about our fellow man, especially in a confined space.

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