From the fart jokes penned by famous writers to the horrifying consequences of holding in your flatus to why toots smell worse in the shower, here are a few facts—adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube—that you can drop the next time you let a fart fly.
1. The world’s oldest recorded joke was a fart joke.
Bathroom humor has a long history. In 2008, researchers at England’s University of Wolverhampton traced the ancient joke, about a woman who may or may not have tooted in her husband’s lap, all the way back to 1900 BCE. The Sumerian quip is delivered as follows: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
2. Everyone farts.
If you’ve ever encountered one of those people who swears up and down that they don’t fart, they’re lying. If you’re a human being who breathes, you’re a human being who breaks wind—gas is essentially the byproduct of the air you swallow mixing with the (generally healthy) bacteria and other organic compounds in your large intestine, then finding its way out of your body via your rear-end. In other words: Everyone farts! Accept it.
3. The medical term for a fart is flatus.
If you want to sound super smart when someone steps on a duck, you’ll want to use the proper medical term for a fart: flatus. It comes from the Latin word meaning “the act of blowing.” The first known use of the word occurred in 1651 and is simply defined as “gas generated in the stomach or bowels.” If you want to take your toot talk up one notch further, try using borborygmus—that’s the word gastroenterologists use to describe the rumbling noise your stomach makes when you’ve got some gas brewing.
4. Adults fart about 14 times a day.
How much squeezing cheese is normal? Typically, adults produce about two pints of gas each day, which sneaks—or leaks—out via an average of 14 farts a day. If that number seems low to you, don’t worry. It’s apparently perfectly normal to pass gas up to 21 times a day.
5. Sulfur is what makes farts stink.
Ninety-nine percent of what constitutes a toot has no smell at all. It’s made up of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane—all of which are odorless. It’s generally when sulfur makes its way into the mix, mainly via the foods you eat—think broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and dairy products—that things start to stink.
6. It’s impossible to hold in a fart.
No matter how sly you think you may be, you cannot “hold in” a fart. Sure, they can rumble to the surface at inopportune moments and you can often comport your body in certain ways to prevent the little guy from screeching out, but that gas will escape. If you’re lucky, it will do so quietly and over an extended period of time to give you the best chance of not being suspected as the one who dealt it. But if you’re not so lucky, holding in a stinker could force it to come tumbling out louder than it would have in the first place. According to Clare Collins, a professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle, “Holding on too long means the build-up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart.” So think carefully when making flatulence-dependent decisions.
7. If you try to hold in a fart, it could leak out of your mouth.
If you’re truly cursed, holding in a tail scudder for too long could mean that the gas will be reabsorbed into your circulation system and could actually leak out of your mouth. Do not take any chances. Unleash the air biscuit.
8. Shakespeare loved a good fart joke …
Just as it’s considered rude to pass gas in public, the word fart itself has long been considered a vulgarism, making it impolite to talk about bottom burps in certain company. But that didn’t stop some of history’s most celebrated thinkers from writing about cutting the cheese. William Shakespeare was a master of the fart joke, as evidenced in works like A Comedy of Errors, where the character Dromio of Ephesus says the following: “A man may break a word with you, sir; and words are but wind; Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind.”
9. … as did Geoffrey Chaucer.
Geoffrey Chaucer had a character “let fly a fart as loud as it had been a thunder-clap” in The Canterbury Tales.
10. Plenty of other classic works feature fart jokes.
Dante’s The Inferno, Aristophanes’s The Clouds, Mark Twain’s 1601, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye are just a few other pieces of revered literature that waxed poetic about cheek squeaks.
11. James Joyce loved farts.
James Joyce’s Ulysses is another classic that didn’t shy away from fart talk, but Joyce himself took it one step further. He actually seemed to find something romantic in breaking wind. When he wasn’t busy writing some of the most influential works of the 20th century, Joyce penned some pretty raunchy missives to Nora Barnacle, his wife and longtime muse. In one letter, written in December 1909, he used the word fart a total of 10 times—and mostly in an X-rated context. “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere,” Joyce wrote. “I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.” He described it as a “rather girlish noise.”
12. Farting can be a fetish.
If Joyce was particularly enthusiastic regarding his wife’s unique emission, he wouldn’t be entirely alone. Farting can be a fetish. Case studies—including a 2013 paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior—have been written about individuals who are aroused by flatulence, a proclivity known as “eproctophilia.”
13. One woman who had obsessive thoughts about farting was advised to fart harder.
An obsession with squeakers isn’t always a fetish, though. In 1982, a pair of scientists at Georgia State University published a case study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry about a 33-year-old respiratory therapist who could not rid her mind of obsessive thoughts about roaring from the rear. In a rather unorthodox move, she was instructed to “intensify flatus emissions” or, in laymen’s terms: When she had to pass gas, she should just fart harder. This contradictory advice helped free her of the thoughts altogether.
14. Canadian Parliament once argued about the appropriateness of using the word fart on the chamber floor.
The debate erupted in November 2016 after Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, in an impassioned speech, dared to ask, “Why does the government treat Alberta like a fart in the room that nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge?” Rather than answer her question, Green Party leader Elizabeth May admonished Rempel, labeling her question “distinctly unparliamentary” and requesting that her colleague withdraw the statement. May’s issue wasn’t with the political content of the conversation—it was, in her words, the use of “the word was f-a-r-t.” (Yes, she actually spelled it.) Eventually, the Assistant Deputy Speaker broke out the House of Commons Procedure and Practice rulebook, and read from the section on “unparliamentary language” then declared that “The honorable member said a couple of things that were borderline, but it is up to her to decide whether they were unparliamentary. Someone took offense. I will take it under advisement and bring it back to the table, and we will go from there.”
15. Gerald Ford blamed his farts on his Secret Service agents.
Canada isn’t the only place where politics and pant rippers have come together in an explosive way. When Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States, would let one rip, he’s said to have regularly blamed it on one of his Secret Service agents, very loudly saying things like “Jesus, was that you? Show some class!”
16. One boss got sued for allegedly farting too much.
Greg Short was a supervisor at an engineering firm in Melbourne, Australia, that got sued by David Hingst, a former employee, who claimed that he was continually bullied by his boss—or, more specifically, his boss’s gassiness—during the year he worked for the company. Hingst claimed that between May 2008 and April 2009, Short would regularly amuse himself by coming into Short’s windowless office, at which point he would “lift his bum and fart.” Hingst sued for $1.8 million AUD in damages—equivalent to roughly $1.3 million USD. While Short denied being a serial fart attacker, he did acknowledge it was possible that he had let a few go near Hingst. In any case, the court sided with the company, deciding that hot boxing an office on occasion did not rise to the level of harassment. Hingst vowed to appeal.
17. It’s a bad idea to fart at the police in Germany.
In 2016, when Berlin police asked a group of people to show them some identification, one man floated a pair of farts their way instead. The farter in question was fined 900 euros for disrespecting law enforcement and started what became known as the “Crazy Toot Trial,” which required the participation of 23 law enforcement officials and prompted a huge debate over wasteful public spending.
18. Some have turned farts into performance art.
In the late 1800s, a French baker named Joseph Pujol would often entertain his customers by sucking air into his rectum, then expelling it in such a way that he could actually imitate different instruments and sounds. While not a fart in the most technical sense, Pujol decided to take his act on the road. He adopted the stage name Le Pétomane—which combined the French word for “to fart,” péter, with the suffix -mane, for “maniac”—and wowed the crowds with his talent for passing wind at will. If you’d like to see a flatulist perform for yourself, at least one is still around: England’s Mr. Methane, a.k.a. the King of Farts.
19. Scientists have studied how much space a fart takes up.
In 1991, gastroenterologists from the Human Gastrointestinal Physiology and Nutrition sub-department of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, England, published a paper in the trade journal Gut that attempted to answer perhaps the most important question of all: How much space does a fart take up? To get to the bottom of the problem, they fed 10 volunteers 200 grams of baked beans in addition to their regular diet, then used rectal catheters to measure their flatulence over the next 24 hours. They determined that the volume of the average fart—regardless of gender, body size, or time of day—was between 33 and 125 ml, with a median of 90 ml, or about 3 fluid ounces … roughly the volume of an airport-approved travel bottle. Think of that the next time you’re packing your toiletry bag for a trip.
20. Beans might actually make you gassier.
Speaking of beans: You may have uttered that lasting legume-based poem, “Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot” at one point in your life, and there may be something to that sing-songy refrain. A 2011 study in Nutrition Journal comprised of three feeding studies found that some subjects who ate beans did see an increase in gas compared to a control group. The increases seemed to taper off after some time, though, and the paper’s authors argue that the health benefits of beans outweigh any temporary tooting.
21. There’s no scientific evidence that links how loud a fart is to its smell (or lack thereof).
Lest you take too much stock in the anatomical expertise of our nation’s 9-year-olds, though, let’s discuss the term silent but deadly. You’ve probably used it to describe a fart at some point in time, but firm scientific evidence establishing a relationship between the loudness of a fart and its resulting smell is lacking. Which isn’t to say that you’ve never experienced the horror that is an SBD—but if you want to tout a rigorously established connection between smell and sound, you may need to fund the necessary research yourself.
22. Farts can be visible in cold air.
We’ve all heard stories, or seen YouTube videos, of people lighting a fart on fire. And yes, it’s true that a lit flame and a gaseous toot can make for an explosive combination. But here’s another fun, science-y fart fact: If a person cuts the cheese in cold weather with their pants down, it would likely be visible—in the same way that we can see our breath in cold weather.
23. Your farts really do smell worse in the shower.
The lack of clothing means there’s nothing to absorb the smell, and being in the shower means you’re in an enclosed space, so there’s nowhere for that stink burger to go. Plus, there’s some evidence that all that shower steam can actually enhance your sense of smell—which all adds up to one seriously potent bun-shaker.
24. It’s possible (though unlikely) to spread disease via a fart.
Believe it or not, there’s a possible downside to burping out the wrong end with no pants on: getting someone sick … and not from the smell. Though it’s highly unlikely and would take a very specific situation—namely, a person carrying a disease would have to remove their pants and fart squarely at another person in rather close quarters—it is possible for disease to be spread through gas.
25. Lots of animals fart, and for some of them, it can be a genuine matter of life or death.
The Bolson pupfish, a fish found in northern Mexico, feeds on algae and can accidentally ingest the gas bubbles that algae produce in warm temperatures. That becomes dangerous if the air finds its way into the fish’s intestines, which makes it difficult for the fish to swim. If it doesn’t fart to remove the air, it’s likely to die—either from being attacked by a predator when it floats to the top of the water, or because the gas bubbles rupture its intestines.
26. One of the most notorious animal farters is the termite.
They may be small in size, but termites live in colonies of millions. So when each termite lets a half microgram of methane loose per day, it adds up to a lot: about 20 million tons of methane per year, or 1 to 3 percent of global methane emissions.
27. Not every animal farts.
It’s thought that octopuses don’t toot. Nor do soft-shell clams, sea anemones, or birds. Sloths don’t fart either—and they very well may be the only mammal that does not.
28. Your farts probably aren’t as stinky to you as they are to everyone else.
If you swear that your gas smells less offensive than anyone else’s, you’re not alone. The more exposed and familiar we are with something, the more likely we are to prefer it. This goes for music, art, and, yes, even thunder from down under. Which means that while your farts may not register a blip on your own smell detector, the same can’t necessarily be said for those within the odor’s vicinity. Your brain may also anticipate an odor when it knows you just farted, creating a different perception compared to the smelly sneak attack of a surprise from someone else.
29. There’s a pill that claims to make stinky farts smell sweet.
If you’d rather avoid the sulfur-like smell of any farts, there’s a pill for that. In 2014, a French inventor named Christian Poincheval claimed he could turn your flatus from sour to sweet with a pill that will make your gas smell like chocolate. If chocolate isn’t your thing, there are rose, violet, ginger, and lily of the valley varieties, too.
30. There’s fart-neutralizing underwear.
If the pills are ineffective, maybe some fart-filtering fashion is a better bet. There’s an entire company, Shreddies, that uses activated carbon in its line of underwear, pajamas, jeans, and even seat cushions to block the more putrid smells associated with farts.