World's Fair

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In Norway, you say “buse.”

As a geneticist, I am a lot more familiar with the concept of snot than one might suspect. And although this may appear to be a sort of an odd soundbite, it can be quickly explained by the simple fact that pure genomic DNA, isolated from any and all variety of nature’s participants, will actually take on the appearance of the stuff you might see dripping out of an infant’s nose. I even call it “boogery,” which delights me to no end as an educator who is privilege enough to impart such wisdom to audiences ranging from scientific Heads of Departments to priests to politicians to graduate students to lawyers and (best of all) to unwary 11 year olds. In fact, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to which particular group revels the most in this piece of information.

Anyway, given what tends to be the somewhat international flavor of these audiences, I appear to be an expert of sorts on all things snot – or at least in colloquial terms, having compiled an impressive list of foreign ways to say ‘booger.’

Of course, the importance of language is steadfast in any discipline, even one as empirical as the sciences. Furthermore, I happen to know this first hand, having once made the mistake of teaching a group of graduate students to be especially “anal” when dealing with certain molecular procedures, a lecture that was met by sincere looks of disgust from my foreign students (asking, why, of all things, do we have to be anal?).

In Ukraine, you say “smarkotch.”
In Punjabi, you say “chewae.”

In any event, anatomically speaking, being anal would be the exact opposite of all this nose business. As well, being anal has nothing to do with a really interesting book that is refreshingly titled “Your Disgusting Head, The Darkest, Most Offensive – And Moist – Secrets Of Your Ears, Mouth And Nose”. Your nose (and, more specifically, the stuff inside it) on the other hand has a significant role in this book – which considering its wonderful use of language and my particular background, might even make this count as an academic review.

Anyway, this sort of book belies description. “Your Disgusting Head,” attributed to Dr. and Mr. Doris Haggis-On-Whey and published by the fine folks at McSweeney’s Publishing, is the second in the “HOW? BOOK SERIES” (The first being “Giraffes? Giraffes!). I can tell you that it is a very pretty book – think of the luscious retro look of those 60s and 70’s children’s science encyclopedias and you have an idea of what I’m talking about. But what makes this offering different is that instead of the stoic language of education, you have surreal and often very funny musings written in a tone that suggests scientific conjecture in a Radiohead, Teletubbies, Kurt Vonnegut kind of way (forgive me Radiohead and Mr. Vonnegut). In other words, I think it’s marvelous, but I’m not so sure you will.

In Cantonese, you say “baytay.”
In Flemish, you say “snot.”

So perhaps the best way to gauge your level of interest, is to ask yourself whether the following titles make you grin:

WHERE YOUR MOUTH HAS BEEN
THE SICKENING FLUIDS THAT FILL YOUR SKULL
WHO IS THE LUNATIC WHO DESIGNED YOUR EARS?
MADAGASCAR
WHY YOUR BREATH SMELLS BAD?

And of course, my favourite,

WHERE DOES ALL THE SNOT COME FROM?

If so, then I think you too will enjoy this book immensely. In fact, I secretly believe that the underlying intent of this book is to read it to your children. Barring that, it might also work well as a reference in any scientific Ph.D. dissertation. More to the point, it’s worth checking out, especially for those of us who are naturally scientifically curious.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering – my favourite way of saying snot is the very German, “schleim;” and apparently all the snot comes from Detroit.

* * *

Full book details:*
YOUR DISGUSTING HEAD: THE DARKEST, MOST OFFENSIVE – AND MOIST – SECRETS OF YOUR EARS, MOUTH AND NOSE.
By The Haggis-On-Whey World of Unbelievable Brilliance. 64pp. Simon and Schuster $24.50 (Hardcover)

*Also, for those who like such things, the next one is apparently on the Giant Squid.

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From the section about tongues

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    July 11, 2006

    Serbo-Croatian: slina

  2. #2 David Ng
    July 11, 2006

    ooh, slina. That one just rolls off the tongue.

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