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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Short History of Vomit: Part 1

Part 1

Images of vile and repugnant things have been both tactile and ethereal targets of magicians, charlatans, medics, poets, politicians, gods and myths since the dawn of communication. Dualistic philosophy conveys that without a concept of vile things no concept of pleasant things could exist; and so on. Several years ago a minor cause célèbre took the indie-hipster book club circuit by storm; well after its initial French language publication in 1968. The literary work in question is History of Shit. This treatise was penned by Dominique Laporte. Laporte dissected, much like the French philosopher and social scientist before him, Micheal Foucault, the repugnantly profane and molded it into an erudite reflection on western societal norms. Ever since its rerelease, the hipster gangs have exercised their esthetic thuggery on modern culture; giving rise to a whole cottage industry. The sole intent of the hipster's bully-pulpit has been peddling disconnected aspects of pop culture. In A Short History of Vomit, I set out to emulate the esthetic thuggery so brilliantly mapped out by indie-hipsters.

Detailing an comprehensive etymological account of vomit would not be short nor would it address the pervasive fascination with vomit. Another caveat to the reader. This essay will consider primarily the English language as it pertains to vomit. There will be references to other cultures and societies but only in so far as they have influenced the English language or culture. That might seem contradictory since the origin of the verb “vomit” is in direct lineage from the Latin verb (e.g. principle parts) vomeo, vomere, vomitum meaning “to spew forth.” Yet Latin based words compose nearly 50% of the English lexicon.

The Romans appear to be the first Western civilization which elevated vomit out of plebeian vulgarity. To the Romans vomit could be fastened to concepts of envious high culture. As they did, then vomit became reshaped and was able to stand alone as a beacon of sophistication. Ancient Roman public spaces, like amphitheaters and stadiums, were engineered with passages under the seating allowing for an orderly exit from the structure. The noun form of the verb vomit, vomitorium, was kept in reserve to apply to architectural situations involving crowd control. Modern usage of the word is almost exclusively applied to the physiological process of violent excretion called emesis.

The synonyms for vomit are as extensive as they are vivid with particular emphasis on the vernacular. Vomit is often depicted in more prosaic terms which connote the physics of expulsion like throw up, upchuck, heave, spew, hurl and retch. There are also words and phrases which supply a phonetic rhythm to vomiting such as barf, sell the Buick or ralph. In the sometimes confusing British cockney rhyming slang, the cherubic animated characters of Wallace and Gromit are transformed into the “go to” nomenclature for vomit. Don't be fooled into surmising that these euphemisms for vomit are examples of modern day colloquialism found on the website Urban Dictionary. The Elizabethan Era was the period during which the Great Bard, William Shakespeare, bequeathed the English language with one of its most popular synonyms for vomit: puke. In As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii, Jaques says to to Duke Senior:
"They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms."

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