Disinherit the Wind

Damn! It would appear that one of my all-time favourite nuggets of Darwinian trivia in nothing but hot air.

For years, I have been telling people about the terrible flatulence Darwin suffered throughout his life following the Beagle voyage. I would explain how embarrassed he was of his uncontrollable farts, and I would then invariably point out that the name Charles Robert Darwin is, rather aptly it seemed, an anagram of rectal winds abhorrer. Hell, I've even made this witty observation in comments on one or two far more popular Darwin-related weblogs.

Languages, like species, evolve. The spelling of words can change—and so can their meanings.

Yesterday, I was catching up on a small backlog of New Scientist magazines, when I came across a short piece about the online publication of Emma Darwin's diaries (mentioned briefly on this weblog last month). According to New Scientist (my emphasis added):

… [Emma Darwin's diary] entries reveal that the young Charles was already suffering soon after his return from the Beagle voyage and their marriage. Over the course of several months in 1840, for example, Emma described Darwin as "exhausted", "overtired + trembling", "languid" and suffering "great flatulence" (which then meant burping), symptoms that plagued him until his death more than 40 years later.

Damn! Darwin wasn't a farter; he was a belcher. And my clever anagram is ruined.

Is nothing sacred? Is there no end to the myths that surround Charles Darwin?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

One comment

  1. I would like to believe that Darwin farted like a racehorse. Kirt Andersen "Hey Day", Random House 2007 thought so too. He had Darwin holding forth flatulent at a London dinner party in 1848. Martin Luther was similarly afflicted though he seemed to consider his crepitus venta a blessing rather than a curse. The word translates as "Furz" in Luther's Early High German -pretty dang close and also indicating that even then, "fart" wasn't not just the expulsion of vapor from a steam engine. Chaucer used the expression "lit fle a Fert" when the MIller madeth of his arse a thrompet in Absolem's face.

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