Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum came out with a book in 2009 titled “The Whatchamacallit” – a fun and witty compilation of “everyday objects you just can’t name, and things you think you know about but don’t. ” According to the author duo, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. In continuation with our effort to add to one’s ever expanding vocabulary in the Ragtag Daily Prompt, MNL from Cactus Haiku has prompted us with borborygmus as the word for the day.
Borborygmus can be described as a stomach rumble or peristaltic sound, also referred to as ‘bubble gut‘ due to the rumbling, growling or gurgling noises produced by the movement of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract as they are propelled through the small intestine by a series of muscle contractions known as ‘peristalsis‘. The rumbles and grumbles are produced in the stomach as fluid and gas move forward in the intestines. The scientific name ‘borborygmus‘ is derived from the 16th century French word ‘borborygme‘, which in turn was related to the ancient Greek βορβορυγμός (borborygmós – which the Greeks coined onomatopoetically).
Incomplete digestion of food can lead to excess gas in the intestine. Hunger can also trigger peristalsis through the ‘migrating motor complex‘. After the stomach has emptied, it signals the brain to restart peristalsis via the digestive muscles. The rumblings can also be caused when air is swallowed if one is sipping beverages through a straw, or constantly talking while eating.
As a marathon runner, borborygmus is something we often deal with. The medical terminology makes it sound a lot more threatening than it actually is, but something as innocuous as sipping an energy drink through the straw of a tetrapack while in the middle of a run can trigger fluid and gas movement, creating rumbles. If one’s meals and races or training sessions are not timed properly, it can cause discomfort while running. An athlete is often advised to not try anything new on race day – whether the pre-race meals, energy aids during the race, or nutrient replacements post the event, one should consume foods the digestive system is accustomed to. Any sort of experimentation can be left for training days.
A variation of the word has been found in literature, used to describe noise in general. ‘Borborygmic’ featured in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Ada” where noisy plumbing was referred to as “waterpipes seized with borborygmic convulsions”. In “A Long way Down” Elizabeth Fenwick described a room as being “very quiet, except for it’s borborygmic old radiator”. Graham Greene’s “Alas, Poor Maling” was a short story featuring a character who found “irritating noises taking the shape of borborygmus”.
Have you ever wondered what your body is trying to communicate with you? Maybe you will pay closer attention to all those creaks and groans from now on. Aside of the noises inside, do you think you could identify some borborygmic sounds in the vicinity? Now you know the word for them!