Monday, November 20, 2006

The origins of the mouth-breather.

Alright. One post on how much I detest mouthbreathing was just not enough for me. So, herein I am going to try to investigate the historical status of the mouthbreather. I just want to understand where we went wrong.

Wikipedia has a useful entry on mouthbreathing, covering both the medical definition and the common impression of the behaviour. Note that I am obviously not the only one on this most-just crusade. Actually, I have found at least one supporter on the net.

However, wikipedia does not give me any information on when the term first entered use. So, I checked out…that veritable treasure-trove of idiomatic knowledge…and I got bupkis. Nadda. There was one definition, and it was simply concerning the mechanical/medical status of mouth breathing. There was nothing on the social appearances, or the negative impact of the behaviour.

I started to suspect a conspiracy. Could the mouthbreathers have allies high-up enough that they are preventing common-knowledge from being recorded? Could The Man be a mouth-breather?

Worried, I decided to re-start my search with a resource that features the “common” usages of terms. That’s right- the Double-Tongued Dictionary. I was delighted to find that the definition for “mouth-breather” was (rightly so):
mouth-breather n. a stupid person; a moron, dolt, imbecile. Related: English, Derogatory, Slang

What is even more useful about the DTD is the fact that the site provides a list of citations supporting their definition. This way, one can get a sense of when the term started to take on its meaning. In this case, the earliest citation of “mouth-breather” used in the manner described by the definition (after all, what is the definition of a word other than how it is used in a phrase?) was from 1944.

I was a little doubtful of this date, so I decided to check if it appeared at all earlier. Much earlier. I decided to search for “mouth breather” on EEBO. And once again, I got bupkis.

So it seems that the pathology of mouth-breathing was not discovered (or, dare I say it: created) until the current century. There was an etymology discussion on surrounding where the term may have originated. The earliest that this author could find of the use of the term was with regards to the physical effects of mouth breathing on hearing.

So I tried using FindForward’s “early century” search counter. The results gathered by the search for “mouth breather” suggest that the use of the term peaked during the 1940s. However, since this search does not allow me to actually see the data gathered, I can not say for sure if the results are relevant to my search.

The “later century” search saw some interesting variation in the use of the term (peaking in the early 80s), but once again, since it does not actually allow you to access the data, I can not determine the relevance. However, what is interesting is if you compare these results to a search of the term “mouthbreather” (one-word). The results peak around the same years. Once again, though, the fact that I cannot examine the data for myself makes the results dubious.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I hate mouthbreathers.

I know that this is definately not a post about using digital sources to do historical research, but I really have to say something. While doing some crowd wathcing over lunch this afternoon, I must have counted something like 20 mouthbreathers. Some were even

In the new regime, I am going to put a public tax on mouth-breathers.

Seriously. I think that there are one or two other things that one could do to successfully tell the world that they are barely thinking. Now, before writing this off as just another diatribe- which, admittedly it is- just stop to think about it. Have you not ever seen someone walking on campus with their mouth half open? Haven't you also noticed the fixed-forward stare of these people? Honestly, it looks as though they are asleep on two feet. What's worse, is the dull, glazed-over expression that dominates the face. Why don't these people take a look in the mirror? Moreover: the sound. I swear that whenever I go to a movie theatre, in that moment when the lights go down and the audience quietly awaits the film to start (or, properly, the commercials), I can always hear a cacophany of mouth breathing. That's right. It's this not-quite-a-snore-but-damn-louder-than-NORMAL-breathing sound.

Well, it could just be that they are living down a long evening, or they are suffering through a long day, and they really are starting to fall asleep on their feet. But I doubt that that is always the case. This seems to me to be an abnormality that is fostered by our health-care-centric, lazy, sedentary lifestyle. If people were more active, breathing through their noses would become normal. Yes, it is true that you can draw more air through your mouth. So when you are exercising it makes sense to inhale through the mouth. However, it is also very effective to exhale slowly. Come on, everyone has done those calming exercises where they are told to "breathe in 1-2-3, hold, and exhale 1-2-3-4".

This is not just some yoga-new-age-mumbo-voodoo. There is a physiological rationale here. When you exhale too quickly, you throw off the CO2 balance in your blood. This is usually referred to as hyperventillation. Not healthy, to say the least. When your CO2 balance is off, your body stops functioning properly. This results in the fatigued I'm-so-tired-that-can't-even-find-the-strength-to-close-my-mouth look.

Aside from leaving the body in a panic-response mode, imbalances in blood pH can lead to immune deficiencies, and increase sensitivities to allergens and other air-borne pollutants. There are also several other points about the detriments of mouth-breathing, but the last one that I will bring up is that mouth breathers are obviously bad kissers.

Take running, for instance. that I think of it, running may be a bad example of nose-breathing vs. mouth breathing since most people do not have to worry about breathing rythm. Also, I think that the general consensus among runners is that whatever works is good for you.

But that doesn't help to prove that nose breathing is better. Swimming: there's a sport where your breathing rythm affects performance. Try swimming while exhaling through the mouth, and then through the nose. You should find that you need to take fewer breaths/length when exhaling through the nose. Inhaling through the nose is a bit more difficult due to (proper) head position, so a combination of mouth-inhaling and nose-exhaling is probably best.

My bottom line here is that mouth breathing is just ugly, aside from being un-healthy. Especially when not exercising. Now, as a nose breather I know that nose-breathers can be equally loud. I am pretty sure that everyone has had that experience where they go from walking outdoors and sit down inside and then their nose starts running. If you don't have a bunch of tissues on you, you end up making sniffing sounds every couple of minutes. Believe it or not, but I find that this sound is much more tolerable than the slightly-audible grating of a mouth breather.

So, to all of the mouth breathers out there: there is hope for you. Admit you have a problem, and seek some rehabilitation.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Throwing Swords for Dummies

Alright, admittedly this post is not in keeping with my previous ones, in that I am not going to be strictly commenting on internet tools for historians.

I'm not sure if I am the only movie-buff in the world who has noticed this, but sometimes it just seems this way. Have you ever watched a movie where the main character throws their sword? The most recent flick that I had seen it done in was "The Last Samurai" where Tom Cruise throws his sword, and it impales some guy like a spear.

Honestly, I can't help but start laughing whenever I see this. What strikes me as so funny is, first: the idea of using a sword as a spear sometimes seems to be a result of not actually having a spear in the prop department.

It kind of makes me think that our civilization does not actually remember what sword is for.

Second: (and I admit that I could be flat-out wrong on this one) Swords cannot be thrown like spears/javelins. Trust me, I have tried throwing any number of sword-like objects in the past (hey, we were all kids once!), and swords are just not balanced like spears, or knives.

Now, I have tried searching the web for this topic, but it seems to me that no one has actually posted on the real-world physics behind throwing swords. When performing a search on the google, the main hits returned were from a bunch of RPG-players trying to come up with the stats for "throwing swords", and sword manufacturers. There was one site that seemed as though the author had done some credible empirical research, until he made the following statement:

"...pointed out that there's a LOT more momentum behind a missile from a horse. Partly because of the extra height, partly because you've got that extra 30 mph to add to the missile. So, yes, a thrown big knife will do enough damage to be noticed."

Once again, demonstrating to me that scienticians (my definition: non-science people commenting on science) should take some physics.

So to end of this rant, I am going to start a list of movies that incorporate a scene where the hero throws a sword and impales his/her enemy, or cuts some object at the last possible moment to stop a chain of (possibly deadly) events from unfolding:

1) The Last Samurai; Tom Cruise impales the racist American colonel, from horseback.
2) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Morgan Freeman throws his bizarre scimitar at the witch just before she stabs Robin in the back.
3) Any Movie with Schwarzenegger holding a sword; Conan, Red Sonja, the Conan Sequels, Predator (apparently this a machete, but hey!)
4) Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail: The Black Knight, anyone?
5) Gladiator: Russel Crowe gets one of the riders in the colosseum (who is on horseback)

If anyone would like to add to the list, please feel free.