Why Do Men Spit So Goddamn Much?

They spit on the football pitch. They spit while cycling. They spit after taking a piss in the urinal.
06 March 2020, 9:15am
DR43DY (2) (1)
Why, Bro? is a semi-regular series where we look at the reasons why men do the things they do.

What’s the issue: Spitting. Gobbing on the floor. Sucking up a phat loogie and projectile launching it onto the pavement.

How long has it been going on for: Men – and women – have been spitting ever since the laws of nature decided that salivary glands sit inside each one of our cheeks. For a while, it was relatively socially acceptable to spit. In the 19th century, the spittoon – literally a bowl for depositing long strings of dribble – was a common feature in pubs, brothels, saloons, hotels, stores, banks and railway carriages. Things only changed when tuberculosis hit prime time in the 20th century and spitting became uncouth and a health issue. Now, it’s mostly frowned upon.

Still, much spit continues to be spat.

Where does it happen: Um, everywhere, basically? But there are also a few definitive places. Football matches are a big one, with spit huffed from the mouth of players as they trot alongside the touchline while waiting for the referee to signal a free throw. Same goes for running, cricket, cycling. Musicians also seem to be hot for releasing the remnants of their gob while performing – take Slowthai, who spat in a fan's mouth last December to widespread adoration.

However your average man isn’t a competent “rock star” (with several branded campaigns under his belt), nor is he a semi-professional footballer player despite what his neverending pub chats about Sunday League attempt to posit. He, simply, is gobbing in the local boozer’s urinal after doing a piss.

Ok, but why: “There’s a visceral nature to spitting,” says Professor Ross Coomber, who produced a 2013 academic paper looking at the nature and meaning of public spitting in six Asian countries. In those countries, he says, spitting is more common; there wasn’t the same reaction to the tuberculosis crisis as here in the UK, where "no spitting" signs were introduced on buses and trains.

"Honestly, spitting feels like quite a dated thing," says Joe, 31. "At least in public anyway. That said, I did it this morning when I was cycling. I also went for a jog and was spitting then. Then last night, at the cinema, I noticed that I spat in the urinal."

Here in the UK, expelling saliva was initially functional – you did it because it would bloody well sort you out. “It would have been common in mining towns and in those employment areas where people used to get congested lungs,” he says. However as attitudes changed and the mining towns shut down, the act of spitting became more animalistic. It’s in the same medium as a lion’s roar or hippo’s snort in the sense it gets a message across without using words, but by a half-cut human in shoes, and therefore less impressive.

“Some men spit because they are showing some level of aggression,” explains Ross. “On the football field, it’s men showing they are determined. ‘I’m spitting now. I’m getting aggressive and determined’ – it shows that I care.”

But what about the average guy at the pub or on the street? “You can be at a bus stop and there’s a few lads around, gobbing on the floor,” says Ross. “They may not say anything to you but you know there’s more meaning to the spit. Depending on what it is, for what reason and in what context, there are messages to the spit.”

It’s mindful spitting, basically, and a way to mark territory. As for the hawking up a fat one in the toilet thing? "Spitting is a socially unacceptable thing to do," says Joe. "But this feels like the last place it's accepted."