In the Beginning: Why Can't it Be Out Already?!

Image credit: 

Our new book In the Beginning's hitting stores in a week, and we can't wait to show it to you. Here's one of our favorite origin stories. And if you pre-order it today, we'll send you an autographed book plate (see details below).

The Kiss (and tell)

Preludes to a Kiss

kiss.jpgIf you believe F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous quote, kissing "originated when the first male reptile licked the first female reptile, implying in a subtle, complimentary way that she was as succulent as the small reptile he had for dinner the night before."We're hoping he didn't mean that, if only because we don't want to think our significant others are subconsciously ruminating on last night's meatloaf when they lean in for a smooch. However, there's a grain of truth in Fitzgerald's reptilian scenario: The "lizard brain," or the most primitive part of that organ "“ the cerebellum, medulla, spinal cord, midbrain, and pons "“ is responsible for lust. And it's pretty similar to what the "first male reptile" probably had. So fine, we'll give the lizards the benefit of the doubt and say they technically invented the kiss.

Still, the animals we're really interested in here are the primates. It's their penchant for grooming each other as a form of social bonding that probably laid the foundations for pq1.jpgkissing. Touch was important to early human ancestors, too, but of course they had less hair and thus needed less grooming. What they did have plenty of, though, were sensory nerve endings in the lips, for tasting various foods and determining which ones were nutritious, poisonous, and so on. Perhaps it just felt all nice and tingly to put their super-sensitive lips together, although a number of scientists don't buy the "if it felt good, they did it" theory of the origin of the kiss. Here are some of the less obvious factors that might also have contributed to the rise of kissing:

1. The "chew on this for a minute" theory.

Early human ancestors had to make their own baby food out of sparse and tough raw materials "“ and, not having Gerber-esque factories at their disposal, they probably did it with their mouths. Like mother birds, they may have chewed up their own food and spat it into their babies' gaping maws, and then kept touching their lips to the infants' because it was comforting "“ in the same way a pacifier is, well, pacifying, even though it doesn't
yield milk.

>More kissing theories and the origin of the French kiss all after the jump...

2. The "it's totally natural" theory.

Kissing, like the fight-or-flight response, could be instinctive. Many animals rub their noses together to express what looks like affection, in a sort of "butterfly-kiss" way. And bonobos, those wild-and-crazy primate relatives of ours, are known to lock lips for just about any old reason: making up after a fight, bonding with others in their living groups, and apparently just for the hell of it. The idea that kissing is completely a natural human instinct, however, doesn't hold up to close scrutiny: at least 10 percent of cultures worldwide don't engage in any kissing at all.

3. The "nose knows" theory.

Okay, it's not really the nose, per se, but the most widely accepted theory of how kissing started does relate to pheromones. Getting up close and personal for a kiss allows two people to suss out each other's pheromones, chemicals that undoubtedly play a major role in attraction. Women, for instance, tend to prefer men with immune proteins that are slightly different from their own "“ the better to give their future offspring a fighting chance against various pathogens "“ and they can tell who their best mates would be, assuming that's the only criterion, simply by kissing. So as foreplay, smooching makes a lot of sense "“ if you're going to be exchanging genes with someone, better to check
them out first with a big wet one.

The French and Kissing

We admit that the French are responsible for a lot of the wonderful things in this world, but really? The French kiss? As it turns out, the old slip of the tongue isn't from France at all; it's a slur against that nation. First popular in the 1920s, it gained a foot- hold among the English, who thought the French were just the kind of louche people who'd go around
sticking their tongues where they didn't belong. (They had some basis for thinking this: the French were the first Europeans to accept kissing in public as dances in the 6th century often ended with quick makeout sessions.) In the French language, however, there's no such thing as a "French kiss," any more than there's "French toast" or "French fries." The
language of love refers to the French kiss as, of course, something far more romantic: "soul kissing." As for who came up with the actual act, we're betting it was the Indians. The Kama Sutra refers to at least 250 different ways to kiss your lover.

51yai+MKH5L._AA240_.jpgCan't wait the week for In the Beginning? Pre-order your copy at any of these fine stores today: Amazon, B&N, Borders, Books-A-Million. Oh, and if you e-mail us your proof of purchase at newsletters@mentalfloss.com, we'll send you an autographed sticker to place in the book!

More from mental_floss...

October 24, 2007 - 11:00am
submit to reddit