ON THE RUN: About women who spit
Webster’s Dictionary defines spitting as an act of expulsion of the contents of one’s mouth into one’s surroundings. It is a process which allows the person indulging in it to get rid of unwanted fluid, food particles, phlegm or extraneous material like sunflower seeds or tobacco.
What is unique about spitting, however, is that it is a completely voluntary act unlike belching or defecation. In countries like India, spitting is universally practiced and accepted outside the realm of sports. A clean patch of sidewalk without the remains of spittle is a rare find.
Some cultures have even elevated spitting to the level of national pastime. Throughout the course of my spitting research, I discovered sporting events that centered around spitting in its purest form – just saliva – as well as a variety of “other matter” forms.
The Afrikaans community has even gone so far as to hold annual Championships for Kudu Dung Spitting – a practice which would personally turn me off spitting forever. This sport, which I assure you is really practiced, is centered around the Kudu, an animal that is notoriously difficult to hunt and leaves piles of dung in its path to mock those who attempt to track it. Participants choose the choicest pieces of dung, not too wet so as to stick in one’s mouth and not too dry as it would fall apart once in contact with saliva, and place it in their mouth.
The contest centers around who can spit the dung the farthest, and of course is followed by heavy drinking by all athletes and spectators. The drinking is said to cleanse one’s palate, though I think it also aids in forgetting the disturbing ritual they have just performed.
But I digress.
In the early 1900s, Charles Dickens stated that as a people, we lack the national instinct of cleanliness and therefore designated America as a “nation of spitters.”
Why then, I ask you, do I get looks of horror and disgust from my family, friends and co-workers each and every time I spit as I am strolling down the street?
Unfortunately for spitting enthusiasts like myself, this act of expulsion is frowned upon in daily life in most of the good ol’ US of A (except for maybe places like the Bayou or areas of West Virginia). While it has become commonplace on a baseball or football field, it is considered a sign of ill-breeding when practiced outside the realm of physical activity.
If spitting “out of place” is such an affront to hard-working American souls, then what are the right places to clear one’s mouth of unwanted debris? If it were simply a spatial stipulation, i.e. inside vs. outside, then why don’t golfers or tennis players spit while they are playing? Is there a certain cultural/socioeconomic assignment that separates the spitting sports from those that abstain from such acts?
Some experts in the field of spitting tie the roots of this practice to chewing tobacco and the necessity of freeing the mouth and throat of “chaw.” The sport of baseball definitely served as an example of this before the AMA let us know that tobacco was deadly, but what about boxing or running for that matter? Neither sport has ever involved tobacco use, but both involve spitting in an almost ritual form.
I have been a distance runner for years and am proud of the level to which I’ve brought my spitting skills after miles and miles of practice. I have shared my secrets with teammates and running partners – especially women – who are plagued with the “spit all over yourself” syndrome or simply have never felt bold enough to heave one in motion. Of course, I am discriminating when it comes to where and when I unload, and don’t spit on friends’ carpets or when I am in formal attire.
However, my question remains as to who decided the boundaries of acceptable and non-accepted spitting with regards to individual sport, gender or region. In the late 1800s and the beginning of the 20th century, anti-spitting ordinances were enacted all over the country largely in response to tuberculosis scares. This is hardly a concern today.
Early society women sparked anti-spitting campaigns in Boston in an effort to make the city a more “respectable public space for ladies,” but that was before women took part in sport the way contemporary female athletes do.
When Roseanne Barr spit and grabbed her crotch after singing the National Anthem a few years ago at the World Series, the American public was appalled. While strong reactions to her behavior were justly centered around civic pride, would the spectacle have been so heightened if a man have done the same?
As a woman and a frequent spitter, I encounter adverse reactions to my habit even when I am spitting during sport. Aren’t all spitters created equal?
A brilliant British film was made in the 1980s entitled “The Great O’Grady,” which centers around the life of a (fictitious) national spitting champion who meets his demise after drinking hot tea and drying out his mouth. While this movie has no true relevance to my ramblings, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could learn to embrace such heroes?
Let me clear my throat.
Lara Mullin is the Sierra Sun sports writer.
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