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How Much Does a Fart Weigh?

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Flatus—the proper medical term for gas emitting from the intestines—has been examined at length in comedy, on YouTube, and in dorm rooms around the world. A fart's volume, however, is not often addressed. Farts consist primarily of nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and methane. These gases have mass, which means farts could theoretically be measured for volume. But has anyone ever bothered? And if so, how?

Yes. And, gently. In 1991, gastroenterologists from the Human Gastrointestinal Physiology and Nutrition Department of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, England published a paper in the trade journal Gut that attempted to quantify toot size. Their methodology was simple: take 10 volunteers, feed them 200 grams of baked beans on top of their normal diet, and measure their flatulence over a 24-hour period via rectal catheters.

Placed where the sun's ray cannot shine. MediQuip

To confirm their collection protocol was up to snuff, subjects sat in a bath with the rectal catheter inserted—the line led to a laminated gas bag—and farted. Since no bubbles were visible, they concluded the catheter was sealed.

The physicians determined that the average adult produces a median 705 milliliters of gas (nearly 24 ounces, or two soda cans’ worth) every day. Men and women passed equal amounts; farts tended to be more robust following a meal.

The farters varied widely in individual output, with a range of 476 ml to 1491 ml among the subjects during the 24 hours. The researchers noted that a singular fart, regardless of time of day, gender, or body size, was between 33 to 125 ml, with a median of 90 ml. That’s the equivalent of roughly three ounces of comedy.

According to Matthew Bechtold, M.D. a gastroenterologist and associate professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Missouri, fart volume can be highly variable depending on both the amount of swallowed air and the matter produced by bacteria in the colon. Simple carbohydrates that are incompletely digested feed these normal bacteria, which then produce gases. “The main carbohydrate responsible for flatulence is raffinose, a sugar commonly found in cabbage and broccoli, which is poorly digested,” he says.

The study noted that volunteers on low-fiber diets reduced most of the fermentation gases expelled, lowering their fart volume to 200 ml for an entire day.

The researchers did not indicate whether any solid matter would—or should—be considered when evaluating fart mass. According to Bechtold, no fecal material typically escapes during a gas pass. “The anus does well at keeping solid material in while letting the gas out,” he says.  

The approximate size of your average fart.

With that settled, we posed another flatus-related query to Bechtold: If someone farted in cold weather with their pants down, could we visualize the fart similar to the way we see someone’s breath?

“Given the gas is contained in an environment of 98 degrees Fahrenheit just like the lungs, if gas is passed in a cold enough climate, it would likely be witnessed,” he says. “However, given that most patients are fully dressed with a barrier of pants between the anus and the outside environment, it generally goes unnoticed and diffuses rapidly in the air.”

Put another way: A fart is roughly the volume of an airport-approved travel bottle, and could be seen in cold weather if you were inclined to remove your pants in the name of science.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Could the Repeal of Net Neutrality Mean for Internet Users?
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What could the repeal of net neutrality mean for the average American internet user?

Zouhair Belkoura:

The imminent repeal of net neutrality could have implications for Americans beyond the Internet’s stratification, increased costs to consumers, and hindered access to content for all. Net neutrality’s repeal is a threat to the Internet’s democracy—the greatest information equalizer of our time.

With net neutrality’s repeal, ISPs could be selective about the content and pricing packages they make available. Portugal is a good example of what a country looks like without net neutrality

What people may not realize is that a repeal of net neutrality would also give ISPs the ability to throttle people’s Internet traffic. Customers won’t likely have visibility into what traffic is being throttled, and it could substantially slow down people’s Internet connections.

What happens when this type of friction is introduced to the system? The Internet—the greatest collective trove of information in the world—could gradually be starved. People who experience slower Internet speeds may get frustrated and stop seeking out their favorite sites. People may also lose the ability to make choices about the content they want to see and the knowledge they seek.

Inflated pricing, less access to knowledge, and slower connections aren’t the only impact a net neutrality repeal might have. People’s personal privacy and corporations’ security may suffer, too. Many people use virtual private networks to protect their privacy. VPNs keep people’s Internet browsing activities invisible to their ISPs and others who may track them. They also help them obscure their location and encrypt online transactions to keep personal data secure. When people have the privacy that VPNs afford, they can access information freely without worrying about being watched, judged, or having their browsing activity bought and sold by third-party advertisers.

Virtual private networks are also a vital tool for businesses that want to keep their company data private and secure. Employees are often required by their employers to connect to a VPN whenever they are offsite and working remotely.

Even the best VPNs can slow down individuals' Internet connections, because they create an encrypted tunnel to protect and secure personal data. If people want to protect their personal privacy or company’s security with a VPN [they] also must contend with ISP throttling; it’s conceivable that net neutrality’s repeal could undermine people’s freedom to protect their online safety. It could also render the protection a VPN offers to individuals and companies obsolete.

Speed has always been a defining characteristic of the Internet’s accessibility and its power. Net neutrality’s repeal promises to subvert this trait. It would compromise both people's and companies’ ability to secure their personal data and keep their browsing and purchasing activities private. When people don’t have privacy, they can’t feel safe. When they don’t feel safe, they can’t live freely. That’s not a world anyone, let alone Americans, want to live in.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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