Sunday, August 22, 2010

The "F" Word Revisited

Readers of this blog might recall that I, Der Viator, frown on the word fart and grow weary of its overuse. Why must everything be “fart this” or “fart that”? I kid you not, hardly a day goes by in which I’m not subjected to this vulgar word. To make matters worse, some people think it's funny (!) to say it aloud.  A good friend of mine, knowing my feelings on this issue, came up to me the other day and blurted out rather brazenly: "Fart, fart, fart, fart, fart!"  I just don't get it.  Were you to defend its usage by saying that the term simply describes a biological function—to wit, a self-explosion of gaseous waste, sometimes auditory, sometimes silent, almost always pungent—I would still take issue.

You see, dear reader, my objection to the “F” word stems not merely from a legitimate concern for propriety and decency. The word resonates with my family history. The Viators migrated here in the 1850s from Fartenburg, Germany seeking religious freedom and better prospects for their future. They were peasants who tilled the soil, planting mostly beans, lots and lots of beans. Crop failures and high rent had been making life in their Bavarian town unbearable, however, and their Anabaptist roots hadn't endeared them to their Catholic neighbors.  Add to these difficulties a haughty landowner from the minor nobility, Baron Ulrich von Flatula, who enforced new inheritance laws.  Rather than live like paupers, the Viators emigrated to the States.  As they made their way to Munich for the necessary paperwork, the locals called out, “Schau ma mal, die Farts sind hierher angekommen!” (Behold, the Farts are coming!).  In that time and place such a phrase had an entirely different meaning.  My great-great-grandfather's half-wit servant boy, Karl the Half-Wit, wrote about their exodus from Germany in his memoirs.  (To be honest, though, his account is hard to follow, full of grammatical errors, and marred by drawings of penises in the margins.)

If you're interested, the photo above shows my great-great-grandfather Jakob Ruprecht Viator around 1874.  Note the positioning of his left arm.  I'm told that he's demonstrating his skill in recreating the sound of flatulence by cupping the palm of his hand over his armpit and cranking his arm vigorously as if it were a piston.  He was a brilliant man.

Suffice to say, I have misgivings about associating my ancestors with unpleasant bodily functions, however necessary they might be. I wouldn’t have known about this story, by the way, had it not been for the family genealogist, my uncle Willard. Then again, he’s just an old fart. What does he know?