Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Spitting: One in the Eye for Us All

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Spitting: One in the Eye for Us All

Article excerpt

Not long ago someone spat at me in the local park. Or so I thought. There were the noises of expectoration--rumbling in bronchi, revving up in trachea, final plosive thwack of phlegm bulleting from mouth--and then a gobbet of sputum whizzing past my nose. Turning to confront the aggressor, I found he was strolling blithely on, quite unaware of offence. He wasn't spitting at me; he was just, well, spitting.

After decades during which Britain's public places were saliva-free, expectoration has returned--with renewed vigour. Tennis players do it at Wimbledon, rugby players at Twickenham, football players all over the place. What does the resurgence of spitting tell us about Britain?

First, we are a more individualistic and driven society. Sport spitting, for example, is the product of a will to win, characteristic of a professionalised society, in which rewards for success are high and neighbourly nicenesses can go hang. Respiratory blockages are barriers to performance, and must be expelled immediately. Hence the affixing by athletes of clothespeg-like oxygenators to noses. Hence, too, the absence of handkerchiefs: in a contact sport they might provide a grabbable protuberance.

Aggressive-defensive spitting is a street variant. Those in danger of arrest threaten hepatitis with a mere pursing of the lips. Recently my partner, remonstrating with a youth abusing a dog, had a projectile of half-chewed hamburger aimed at her. Infectiveness has become a weapon of life-threatening proportions, yet one that eludes the usual categories of assault and punishment--a kind of low-tech smart bomb, ideally suited to an age obsessed with health and hygiene. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.