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It is currently considered rude and a social taboo in many parts of the world including the West, while in some other parts of the world it is considered more socially acceptable. It is commonly believed that it is possible to transmit infectious diseases in this way, including tuberculosis, influenza, and the common cold but the epidemiological evidence that this is the case is not present and it is likely that this belief, although intuitive, is not reflective of meaningful risk.
Spitting upon another person, especially onto the face, is a universal sign of anger, hatred, disrespect or contempt. It can represent a "symbolical regurgitation"[clarification needed] or an act of intentional contamination.
In some Eastern cultures, it is believed that spitting in public is bad luck, because one may unknowingly spit on invisible spirits who take this as an act of great disrespect and will then curse the spitter. Spitting of saliva or of the red coloured 'paan' witnessed in some parts of rural India is also believed to a major health hazard as it can transmit airborne diseases like tuberculosis and is hence frowned upon.
In the Western world
Social attitudes towards spitting have changed greatly in Western Europe since the Middle Ages. Then, frequent spitting was part of everyday life, and at all levels of society it was thought ill-mannered to suck back saliva to avoid spitting. By the early 1700s, spitting had become seen as something which should be concealed, and by 1859 many viewed spitting on the floor or street as vulgar, especially in mixed company. Spittoons were used openly during the 19th century to provide an acceptable outlet for spitters. Spittoons became far less common after the influenza epidemic of 1918, and their use has since virtually disappeared, though each justice of the Supreme Court of the United States continues to be provided with a personal cuspidor.
After wine tasting the wine is spit into a 'spit bucket' or spittoon.
There are some places where spitting is a competitive sport, with or without a projectile in the mouth. For example, there is a Guinness World Record for cherry pit spitting and cricket spitting, and there are world championships in Kudu dung spitting.
Gleeking (also gleeting, geeking, gleeping, glarfing, glitting, gleaking, glicking, glything, glanding, geezing, yanging, cobra spitting, venoming, lizard spitting) is the projection of saliva from the submandibular gland upon compression by the tongue.
In general, gleeking occurs when an accumulation of saliva in the submandibular gland is propelled out in a stream when the gland is compressed by the tongue. The stream of saliva is released in the general direction of the front of the mouth. If the mouth is open the jet may project several feet. Gleeking is more likely when the salivary gland has been recently stimulated, but even a residual amount of saliva in the gland may be released by gleeking.
Gleeking may occur spontaneously due to accidental tongue pressure on the sublingual gland while talking, eating, yawning, or cleaning the teeth. Gleeking can also be induced, for instance, by pressing the underside of the tongue against the palate, then pushing the tongue forward while simultaneously closing the lower jaw and moving it slightly forward; or by yawning deeply and pressing the tongue against the palate. Practice is usually required to induce gleeking consistently, and induction is more likely to be successful under conditions of salivary stimulation.
Spitting as a protection against evil
In rural parts of North India, it was customary in olden days for mothers to lightly spit at their children (usually to the side of the children rather than directly at them) to imply a sense of disparagement and imperfection that protects them from evil eye (or nazar). Excessive admiration, even from well-meaning people, is believed to attract the evil eye, so this is believed to protect children from nazar that could be caused by their own mothers' "excessive" love of them. However, because of hygiene, transmission of disease and social taboos, this practice has waned and instead a black mark of kohl or kajal is put on the forehead or cheek of the child to ward off the evil eye. Adults use an amulet containing alum or chillies and worn on the body for this purpose. Sometimes, this is also done with brides and others by their loved ones to protect them from nazar.
Shopkeepers in the region used to sometimes make a spitting gesture on the cash proceeds from the first sale of the day (called bohni), which is a custom believed to ward-off nazar from the business.
Such a habit also existed in some Eastern European countries like Romania, and Moldova, although it is no longer widely practiced. People would gently spit in the face of younger people (often younger relatives such as grandchildren or nephews) they admire in order to avoid deochi, an involuntary curse on the individual being admired or "strangely looked upon", which is claimed to be the cause of bad fortune and sometimes malaise or various illnesses. In Greece, it is customary to "spit" three times after making a compliment to someone, the spitting is done to protect from the evil eye. This applies to all people, it is not just between mothers and children. The spitting is light and from a distance, so it is not actual spitting on the face etc. of the person - which if done is derogatory. This practice sometimes extended to spitting on living plants and animals so as to protect them from sudden death or diseases, and spells which were claimed to break the curse of deochi exist.
In other animals
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- Joan Biskupic (2007-03-19). "Supreme Court holds to tradition". USA Today.
- Gleek at the Double-Tongued Dictionary
- John Abbott, Indian ritual and belief: the keys of power, Usha, 1984, "... A woman spits on a child to avert from it her own evil-eye ..."
- S.W. Fallon (1879), A new Hindustani-English dictionary: with illustrations from Hindustani literature and folk-lore, Medical Hall Press, "... bohni ... the first money received during the day, or the first ready-money sale ... no credit being given as a rule for the article first sold ... many superstitious people will spit on ... bohni thoni, rad bala ..."
- "Ptiu să nu te deochi" - an article about spitting against "deochi" in a Romanian newspaper
- Revista de Superstitii si Obiceiuri Populare | Deochiul - superstitie sau adevar? (Deochi - superstition or truth?)