I created quite a stir at the Unitarian Church last Sunday. Mary Ellen was embarrassed when she first heard it. The entire congregation was starting to look in my general direction. Noelle started elbowing her husband. She thought Dan was the instigator. Dan was almost 100 percent sure it wasn’t him. Spouses were poking each other and some of the kids were giggling. My wife thought I should excuse myself from the sanctuary.
Was that my stomach growling?
No one has this identification problem with other bodily eruptions. Everyone clearly knows who the originator is – although with one sound in particular (and its result) there is usually blame-shifting that unfairly maligns the family dog. But with things like sneezing, hiccupping, and coughing, it’s seldom an issue.
I’ll admit that I do have loud internal plumbing. Each week, I record a version of this newspaper column for broadcast on the local public radio station. Scott Hoke, my producer, listens through his headset during the recording session to ensure the audio is top quality. “Let’s do that last line over again, Dick. I just heard WFYI’s sewer back up. Or was that your stomach?”
The technical name for a grumbling stomach is borborygmi. The term comes from the Greek word borborugmos. The dictionary says this is an example of onomatopoeia, a word that imitates the sound associated with something. Yes, just like the Anglo-Saxon term bowwow accurately mimics the noise your Rottweiler makes, the Greeks nailed it with boborgymi.
Now, before you start googling (which is also medical jargon for what my stomach is doing), I have already looked up this symptom, and I am now aware that stomach rumbling is one indication of about 35 different illnesses, including uremia, mesenteric ischemia, aerophagia and functional dyspepsia – none of which I had ever heard of. When your insides churn noisily, your brain is sending a message to your gut to prepare for a meal. As one medical site notes, your belly is saying: “Hungry. No food here; must eat soon.” Why do stomachs sound like Tonto talking to the Lone Ranger?
Apparently, your intestines are always growling, says another expert, but when you have eaten, you are less likely to hear them. “It’s like putting a pair of sneakers in the dryer by themselves versus with a load of towels.” That thought is enough to give you the munchies.
I’ve been at my computer writing this column all afternoon and my wife just sent me an email saying she had a tough day and wants to go out for a quiet dinner. I hated to tell her, but that wasn’t going to happen. Not when I’m this hungry.