Onomatopoeia is a fun word. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a noun that refers to words whose formation are inspired by the sounds they refer to, such as buzz, boom or cuckoo. Unsurprisingly, the names for many sounds are onomatopoeias, and it seems the more unique a sound is the more likely it became an onomatopoeia.
That’s why I’m so surprised that barfing isn’t one. Nothing sounds like it, but ‘barfing’ sounds nothing like barfing – a St. Bernard barking with a soccer ball in its mouth – maybe. Like other taboos or off-color subjects (like sex or pooping) we’ve given regurgitation a perverse number of synonyms: barf, puke, hurl, blow chunks, ralph, vomit, throw up, upchuck, toss one’s cookies, be sick, feed the fish, spew, keck, yak, worshipping at the altar of the porcelain God. However, only retch or urp even come close to being an onomatopoeia.
I think part of it is, that the sound of retching precedes language – it’s too animal to even be represented accurately with words. How would you even spell the sound of someone tossing their cookies? Other taboos like pooping and sex also fulfill animal needs, but they’re usually voluntary and their auditory landscapes would be pretty easy to transcribe:
“Hey pull over would ya, I gotta take a hrmphplopahh.”
“God, I heard my parents having fwapfwapfwap last night. I was totally mortified.”
You’d think for a sound so uniquely disturbing (barfing – not the image in your head right now with the quivering black socks), an English etymology would have developed that could deliver the same nauseating dread to a reader as the sound that lumbered down the hallway from my daughter’s bedroom last night, reached down my throat and pulled me out of a dream at 3:15am.
So after plucking my daughter from her spew-ridden sheets and trying my best to wipe the partially digested blueberries and rice from her hair in the bathroom, I changed her bedding and convinced her it wasn’t quite morning yet by showing her the stars out her window. After she fell asleep and I threw everything that touched puke in the washer, returned to the bathroom and lathered my hands and whole forearms with an unnatural amount of Purell.
You see, I have a peculiar aversion to vomiting, and if this was the flu, I just took a bath in it. And I don’t mean that I don’t like puking. I mean that I don’t puke. The rational side of my brain completely agrees with any sixth year senior frat boy who will tell you that you’ll feel better after you hurl, but there is nothing rational about my aversion to nausea. Nausea and Fear are buried deep down in your brain’s medulla – the same primal ganglia of nerves that controls our most basic survival programming. Nausea pushes it up and fear pushes it down. It’s a paradox, so I dry heave.
The last time I full-on ralphed was some time in elementary school. I woke up feeling cruddy, and after taking my temperature my Dad, not my Mom for some reason, stayed home with me. I remember this because when I did launch my lunch from my cocoon of blankets in front of the TV my puke was bright purple. This was because my Dad had mixed up the instructions on the Flintstones’ chewables. Instead of giving me two grape flavored tablets every six hours, he had been dyeing my insides with six every two hours.
When I was 15 or 16 I disregarded the advice of a friend with a flourish of digestive bravado on the age of a piece of chicken that had been sitting in their refrigerator. Later that night I woke up salivating wildly, and quietly made my way to the bathroom after a half hour of horizontal denial failed. But the amount of splashing at the altar of the porcelain God was far from commensurate with how badly I felt, and afterwards I didn’t feel much better. In retrospect, this was year 0 of my adult dry heaving career.
In high school and college I turned out to be a very responsible drunk and I’ve often wondered if my aversion to puking had more to do with this than any more virtuous aspects of my character. Still, there was that time in upstate New York when Sarah had to pull over in a church parking lot after I got too drunk at Evan Weissman’s party. Thankfully my dry heaving left the parking lot unscathed for any early parishioners the next morning.
Of course I’ve had a bout or two of the flu over the years that has left me yelling into a toilet, but my one common downfall over the years has been mixing too many disparate things. And shellfish. After graduating college, my best friend and I spent a month on the Hood Canal in a dilapidated summer house his parents owned. We’d spend our days setting crab traps by canoe, fishing the rivers, and cooking whatever we had caught that day over a beach fire. In retrospect Milwaukee’s Best probably isn’t the best pairing for oysters, and checking the State’s red tide hotline even once and a while probably would’ve been prudent.
I should also mention that when I get drunk my previous vegetarian morals tended to go out the window. Vegetarians shouldn’t just plow into drumsticks of barbecued chicken, after glasses of wine, shots of tequila and a beer, and not pass on a pipe with some unrecognizable green powder, just because you’re 26 and there’s a full moon rising above Walnut Creek’s rolling hills and you and your co-workers are celebrating getting $500 tips from the lady whose palatial treehouse you just built for her kids. After passing out on your ride back to the hotel, ducking behind a Ramada’s topiary in front of your boss isn’t very flattering. And five years later, you’d think I would have learned that beer, wine, shrimp, oysters and marshmallows is a recipe for discreetly excusing myself from the fire circle for a yak in the dark woods. But of course I didn’t. And still, no amount of saliva can grease the wheels when I’m on all fours rupturing my abdominal muscles.
So after a day of psychosomatic hypochondria, I’m getting ready to turn in. I keep trying to tell myself that the tinge of nausea I’ve felt since retrieving our Christmas tree is just a lingering car sickness. But the pieces are set: no flu shot this year for some reason, intimate contact with puke the night prior, repeated comments to sick friends that we’ve been lucky as a family to escape the flu (though I did knock on wood each time). BUT – no oysters, alcohol, or crazily powdered weed. It could go 50-50.
I’m so scared.