Old anecdotes address bad breath with humor
SUMMARY: Having bad breath can make a person the subject of scorn or the butt of jokes. No wonder that so many ancient and Victorian anecdotes concern themselves with halitosis.
Posted: February 10, 2011
Having bad breath can make a person the subject of scorn or the butt of jokes. No wonder that so many ancient and Victorian anecdotes concern themselves with halitosis.
Plutarch mentions bad breath when relating the life of Hieron, the King of Syracuse. The story, which dates from the 1st century AD, sees the monarch being taunted for having foul-smelling breath. When Hieron asked his wife why she hadn't told him, she replied that she thought it was something all men had in common.
Halitosis is exceedingly widespread. Both men and women suffer from it.
In his Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, Fyodor Dostoyevsky records an interchange between two medieval peers over morning breath. A knight who was known for having chronic halitosis was told by a prince that his breath was bad. Rather than admit to it, Dostoyevsky says the knight replied, "it is not from me, all-merciful Prince, but from you, for you have just gotten out of bed."
Sleeping with the mouth open is a very common cause of oral odor. During the night, bacteria flourish on a dry tongue, multiplying and producing sulfuric compounds that give morning breath its pungent reek.
In story in an 1838 volume titled Scottish Jests and Anecdotes, one Lord Thurlow meets a gentleman with bad breath. The latter man says he has been out for a stroll to get some fresh air. He adds that it was an unpleasant walk, "as I had a damned north wind full in my face all the time." Thurlow responds that he doesn't need to complain, since "the north wind had the worst of it."
Dry winds or exertion can certainly dry out the palate and cause halitosis. Other things that diminish saliva include smoking, anxiety, certain medications, drinking and even talking too much.
Particular foods can also leave a smell in the mouth. In Clouston's Persian Tales, a king is informed that one of his vizier's has mentioned that the monarch has bad breath. To turn the tables, the king orders that the vizier be given a savory dish of food, which is loaded with garlic. Afterwards, the king can ask his subject to stand at a distance, since his breath reeks of garlic.
As these stories show, most causes of bad breath have been around since time out of mind. Today, no matter what the cause of halitosis, individuals can eliminate it by brushing daily and using a specialty breath freshener afterwards.