Text - "The kiss and its history" Kristoffer Nyrop

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How does the mouth produce a kiss?

A kiss is produced by a kind of sucking movement of the muscles of the
lips, accompanied by a weaker or louder sound. Thus, from a purely
phonetic point of view, a kiss may be defined as an inspiratory bilabial
sound, which English phoneticians call the lip-click, i.e., the sound
made by smacking the lip. This movement of the muscles, however, is not
of itself sufficient to produce a kiss, it being, as you know, employed
by coachmen when they want to start their horses; but it becomes a kiss
only when it is used as an expression of a certain feeling, and when the
lips are pressed against, or simply come into contact with, a living
creature or object.

The sound which follows a kiss has been carefully investigated by the
Austrian savant, W. von Kempelen, in his remarkable book entitled The
Mechanism of Human Speech. He divides kisses into three
sorts, according to their sound. First he treats of kisses proper, which
he characterises as a freundschaftlich hellklatschender Herzenskuss
(an affectionate, clear-ringing kiss coming from the heart); next he
defines the more discreet, or, from an acoustic point of view, weaker
kiss; and, lastly, speaks contemptuously of a third kind of kiss, which
is designated an ekelhafter Schmatz(a loathsome smack).

Many other writers have, although in a less scientific manner, sought to
define and elucidate the sound that arises from a kiss. Johannes
Jørgensen says very delicately in his Stemninger that "the plash of
the waves against the pebbles of the beach is like the sound of long

It is generally, however, an exclusively humorous or satirical aspect
that is most conspicuous. In the Seducer's Diary (Forførerens
dagbog) of Sören Kierkegaard, Johannes speaks of the engaged couples
who used to assemble in numbers at his uncle's house: "Without
interruption, the whole evenings through, one hears a sound as if a
person was going round with a fly-flap: that is the lovers' kisses." A
still more drastic comparison is found in the German expression, "the
kiss sounded just like when a cow drags her hind hoof out of a swamp."
This metaphor, which is used, you know, by Mark Twain, is as graphic as
it is easy of comprehension; whereas, on the other hand, I am somewhat
perplexed with regard to an old Danish expression that is to be found in
the Ole Lade's Phrases "He kissed her so that it rang just
as it does when one strikes the horns off felled cows." Another old
author speaks of kissing that sounds as if one was pulling the horn out
of an owl.

The emotions expressed by this more or less noisy lip-sound are manifold
and varying: burning love and affectionate friendship, exultant joy and
profound grief, etc., etc.; consequently there must be many different
sorts of kisses.

The austere old Rabbis only recognised three kinds of kisses, viz.:
those of greeting, farewell, and respect. The Romans had also three
kinds, but their classification was essentially at variance with the
Rabbis': they distinguished between oscula, friendly kisses,
basia, kisses of love, and suavia, passionate kisses. The
significance of these words is clearly expressed in the following

Basia coniugibus, sed et oscula dantur amicis,
Suavia lascivis miscantur grata labellis.

But the Romans' division is by no means exhaustive; kisses are and have
been actually employed to express many other feelings than those

That kisses in this book are arranged in five groups, viz., kisses of
passion, love, peace, respect, and friendship, is chiefly due to
practical considerations; for, to be precise, these artificially-formed
groups are inadequate, and, besides, often overlap one another.