6 Burps and Belches That Made News

burping man
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The scientific term is transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation. It's more commonly known as burping or belching.

In European society, up until the seventeenth century, it was considered good manners to emit a hearty belch after a meal. It showed appreciation for the food. In some cultures, post-meal belching is still acceptable.

However, in western society burping and belching is, of course, now considered impolite in most social situations, as well as gross and immature. Of course, this simultaneously makes the practice perfect fodder for weird news.

So in that spirit, below are six unusual cases in which belching made news.

1. A Burning Belch

In 1890, Dr. James McNaught of Manchester published an article in The British Medical Journal  describing the case of a 24-year-old factory worker whose burp caught on fire while he happened to be holding a match, badly burning his face and lips. McNaught managed to replicate the burning belch with the man in his office, confirming it really did happen. He diagnosed the problem as the "eructation of inflammable gas" from the man's stomach.

McNaught eventually concluded that the man suffered from a disorder that caused food to ferment in his stomach and produce flammable gas, instead of being digested. He advised the man to eat foods that would pass more quickly out of his stomach, to avoid the fermentation. [British Medical Journal, 3/1/1890 — "A Case of Dilatation of the Stomach Accompanied by the Eructation of Inflammable Gas"]

2. First Radio Belch

Melvin Purvis, head of the Chicago office of the FBI, won fame for leading the manhunts that apprehended outlaws such as Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger, but according to legend, he also achieved notoriety in a more unusual way — for being the first person ever to belch on national radio.

The story goes that Purvis had been invited to appear on the Fleischmann's Yeast Hour (aka The Rudy Vallée Show), circa 1935. While being interviewed, he let loose with a belch. This was odd since he was otherwise known to be a well-mannered man.

The belch reportedly earned Purvis a stern reprimand from his boss, J Edgar Hoover, who was intensely jealous of Purvis's growing fame and looking for any excuse to censure him.

The story of Purvis's radio belch appears in many sources. But for some reason, no one ever specifies the exact date that it occurred, and contemporary newspaper sources seem silent about the event. So perhaps, despite the tale's wide circulation, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

3. Undiplomatic Belch

The Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (after whom Molotov Cocktails were named) was not known for being a captivating speaker. He spoke in a slow, monotonous style, often waving his cigarette for emphasis. But in 1946, during a major speech on disarmament at the United Nations, he livened up his talk with a sudden belch.

Those who were following the speech in Russian reportedly were startled by the unscripted addition. However, most people were listening to Molotov via translators, and these seasoned professionals diplomatically didn't include the burp in their narration, thereby preventing an international scandal of manners at the UN. [Washington Post, 7/24/1949 — "UN Interpreters Overlook Burps"]

4. Burping Leaders

In 1964, Dr. Milton Miles Berger of the New York University School of Medicine read a paper at the International Congress of Psychiatrists in which he shared a theory that a baby's style of burping was indicative of its personality and might predict future success (or lack of it) in life. 

An aggressive infant burper, he suggested, whose burps were loud and infrequent, was likely to be a leader. 

However, babies whose burps were slow, sluggish, and soft were "ditherers," and they would grow up to be one of "the masses."

The burp theory of success, he revealed, had first been explained to him by a highly experienced, 65-year-old nurse. 

A British newspaper responded that, "All we want now is a way to tell which child is likely to grow up to be a psychiatrist." [Hendersonville Times News, 8/19/1964]

5. Refusal By Belch

In April 1988, James Jordan was stopped by New Hampshire police for driving erratically and ordered to take a breathalyzer test. Before he took the test, the officers told him not to burp, belch, or spit up, since these can all skew the results. Jordan then proceeded to burp.

The police waited 20 minutes, attempted to readminister the test, but before they could do so Jordan belched again. Considering this a refusal to take the test, the state subsequently revoked his license.

Jordan sued, arguing that the police had no right to interpret a burp as a refusal to take the test. Eventually the case made its way to the state supreme court, which weighed in on this question of "whether a voluntary burp can constitute a refusal to submit to a breath-alcohol test."

It ruled that a burp is indeed the equivalent of refusing to take the test. [James H. Jordan v. The State of New Hampshire]

6. Banned For Belching

In May 1999, Joey Ramirez, 14, had planned to spend the day at Six Flags Marine World with his buddies, but his time there was cut short when park officials kicked him out for repeatedly belching while standing in line for a ride. A park spokesman said, "These were not cover-your-mouth, turn-your-head, little burps. These were suck-in-as-much-air-as-you-possibly-can, open-your-mouth-and-blast-away in the direction of another guest."

Joey's mother protested the eviction, but management stood its ground, citing complaints about the belches from fifteen other park guests. 

Joey admitted they were "really big, loud burps," but explained that he had earlier eaten "like a pig" and "just couldn't hold it in." He also revealed that numerous kids at his school had subsequently asked him for his autograph. [San Francisco Chronicle, 5/8/1999]