Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why a Man of Ordinary Intelligence Would Want to Sit at Home and Spit His Strength Away Is a Wonder, but We Americans Do Some Foolish Things

Friends: a century ago our forefathers put together a set of city ordinances banning the practice of spitting in public.  Yes anti-expectoration ordinances had manifold purposes in the eyes of the city fathers, public health officials, women's clubs and urban leagues. From the dawn of city planning when civic beautification was tantamount to moral beautification, spitting has been considered anathema to the public weal.  

Chawl spit stains paths. The trains of goode ladies' dresses dragged through the tobacco muck spouted from the men of this fair towne.  The microbe rides the sky to the mouths and noses of young children from the same brown tobacco sludge. 117 US townes and cities enacted anti-expectoration ordinances after Asheville, NC started the whole thing off in 1898. New York and Chicago were included in this number.  

Once the ordinance passed the police found cause to make arrests and hand out tickets. Strict enforcement of the law gave cause for small local uprisings. Keeping the men indoors to do their spitting proved too much of a burden for housekeepers and resulted in several lawsuits. But overall the reasonable enforcement of the law resulted in a drop-off in public expectoration.   

In Singapore the act of spitting, jaywalking and littering are punishable offenses.   The spitting law has been on the books since the 1900's, like in the US.  Its enforcement was heightened in response to tuberculosis and SARS outbreaks. First time offenders can be fined up to $1000.  MSNBC  breaks out some of the standard arcana of Singapore's civil codes.  In South Africa kudu dung spitting is a sport (other fun facts here).    

In NYC today spitting seems to be reserved for joggers, men and women with smoker's coughs, people with over-active pituitary glands, or autistics with temporal lobe epilepsy and the practice of chewing tobacco is relegated to lawyers, business mean and professional baseball players (and all except the last resign their spit to 7-11 Big Gulp cups).   Anti-expectoration leagues of the past, victory is yours.  


  1. People here in the South spit like it's going out of style. I wish it were. Maybe I should start the Nashville Anti-expectoration League???

  2. Go for it, Liz. The women of Nashville deserve clean dress trains.

  3. Just a quick note re the keywords for this post. "Chawl" is not accurate to refer to chewing tobacco. A quick google shows "chawl" is actually a type of building found in India. Believe you mean "chaw." There's also "dip" and "chew." Each is actually slightly different. "Chew" means the flakes, what "big league chew" is a takeoff from. "Chaw" I believe is the bar, for that classic Western "puh-ting." And "dip" is closest to snuff, a grainy, powdery substance that you pack in your "dip lip" and just let sit there. I never did much of the stuff, but I knew people - not just men, btw - who did.

  4. Thanks for the fact check, Jamie. I'll try to play it off like I was going for the dialect-- the "L" resulting from the excessive saliva that accompanies a giant wad of to-backy in the mouth.