Admittedly, this is a touchy subject. Although the word is one of the oldest in the English language, using it is considered by many to be beyond the pale. Deriving from the Middle English fertan, it’s akin to the Old High German fersan, which means to break wind. I guess the High Germans figured it you fersanded, there’d better be a wind around.
Now Martians accept the word for what it is but the ladies from Venus consider it to be indecent and offensive. So guys fersan (with sound) and polite people like Venusians pass wind (no sound). Which makes me wonder if you pass wind with no sound, is that an actual fersan? Sort of if a tree falls in the forest kind of thing.
Then there is the scent. Most fersanders (Martians and Venusians) quickly stride away from the noxious yellow cloud, leaving it hovering behind for unfortunates to unwittingly walk into. If that’s ever happened to you, you know well the reaction. You stand there with your nose wrinkling up looking around to locate the guilty party. Of course, everyone is far away and acting totally innocent so you write it off, thinking, maybe there’s a dead mouse under the sofa?
Now while the word is banned in printed media, it is used all the time in common parlance. For instance, “he’s an old fersan”, or “as out of place as a fersan at a garden party,” and of course, every teenager’s great love, the “fersan cushion.”
But God forbid you ask in mixed company: “Did someone just fersan?” Even if someone did, you don’t dare use the word lest you be written off as a barbarian.
Which brings me to guys. Guys learn at an early age that nothing is quite as satisfying as lifting one leg and letting a fersan rip–the louder and more flapping the sound (imagine a playing card clothes-pinned to a bicycle wheel)–the better. It’s a male ritual, one that survives into old age. It’s especially gratifying for guys to rip one in a narrow corridor so the sound reverberates like clapping hands in a canyon.
Of course, nothing offends Venusians more than a juicy fersan, especially if an odor attends it.
Now if you choose to fersan in a car, here’s my counsel. Before the cheek-lifting maneuver, hit the down buttons on the front windows so most of the yellow cloud flies out into the county. And all you get is a sneeringly-intoned, “That’s disgusting.”
If you don’t go for the open window option, be prepared for your wife to act like she’s been tear-gassed, swatting at the air with her hands while screaming unmentionables at you.
Of course, they never cut the cheese–never ever. They might pass gas or break wind, but as I said earlier, women never fersan. If you say, “Did you just fersan?” They get all self-righteous, and archly ask, “Who me?” Here’s the way the rest of the conversation goes:
Me: “Yes–you, I heard it.”
Her:“ Heard what?”
Me: “The fersan.
Her: “I didn’t fersan.”
Me: “Then what’s that smell?”
Her: “What smell? I don’t smell anything.”
When it comes to fersanding, women always take the 5th. If you really catch them in the act, they’ll offhandedly dismiss it as “just an intestinal disturbance.”
The history of fersanding is fascinating. In a recent article, “How a Fart Killed 10,000 People”*, Candida Moss, a professor at Notre Dame, writes, “We might think of farts as trapped gas, but the history of farting is more than just hot air. The historian Josephus tells us that an irreverent Roman soldier lowered his pants, bent over, and ‘spoke such words as you might expect from such a posture.’ The incident took place shortly before the Passover and caused a riot that led to the deaths of 10,000 people.”
Lest you think that the history of fersanding is only tragic, she goes on to say that “the oldest joke in the world is a fart joke.” She cites Roland le Sarcere, “also known as Roland the Farter, court minstrel to King Henry II, as the most successful purveyor of fart jokes. Roland performed a dance that ended with the simultaneous execution of one jump, one whistle, and one fart. For his talents, Roland was gifted a manor house in Suffolk and 100 acres of land.”
She sums up her article by saying that fersands are the cellar dwellers of bodily sounds. Burps can embarrass, hiccups may get a laugh, sneezes meet with “God bless” and even coughs are acceptable, while the lowly fersand awaits social rehabilitation—even though scientists estimate that the average person fersands 14 times a day.
So the next time your hubby cuts one, remember all you Venusians, maybe he’s simply angling for a house and a hundred acres in the country.