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Q: Lice and grooming ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   17 Comments )
Question  
Subject: Lice and grooming
Category: Health
Asked by: archae0pteryx-ga
List Price: $3.69
Posted: 15 Apr 2005 21:25 PDT
Expires: 15 May 2005 21:25 PDT
Question ID: 509946
This one's sheer curiosity, and somewhat unseemly curiosity, at that. 
Still, I imagine it'll catch someone's fancy.

I read in _Montaillou_, an account of life in a 14th-century French
village at the time of the Inquisition, that it was part of the social
and interpersonal culture of the day for people to delouse one
another.  I imagine they needed it!  Family members, friends in a
social circle, even lovers in bed might spend some intimate time
together helping rid one another of bothersome vermin.

Now, when Jane Goodall's baboons of Gombe groom one another, they, um,
eat the pickings.  I remember seeing this cozy and nutritious activity
depicted numerous times on various PBS programs.

So what I want to know, of course, is, what did our relatively modern
human ancestors, those folks of the 14th-century and later, do with
the specimens they picked off one another?  Don't you wonder too?

Thank you,
Archae0pteryx
Answer  
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
Answered By: leli-ga on 20 Apr 2005 11:03 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
 
Hi Tryx

Thanks!

It was surprisingly entertaining combing through literary sources for
references to cracking lice. Swift's pastoral vision was my favourite
find.

Before I copy my original comment here, I'll add one further extract
from Montaigne -

". . . the tale of that woman which by no threats or stripes would
leave to call her husband pricke-lowse, and being cast into a pond and
duckt under water, lifted up her hands and joyning her two thumb-nails
in act to kill lice above her head, seemed to call him lousie still"
http://www.uoregon.edu/%7Erbear/montaigne/2xxxii.htm

 - and invite you to take a look at the charming domestic scene in
Rimbaud's "Seekers of Lice":
http://www.tonykline.co.uk/Browsepages/French/Rimbaud1.htm#_Toc90289046

"Crack a louse" is a useful search phrase.

Cracking with the teeth was frowned on by Ibn Fadlan in the 10th century -
http://www.radioislam.org/historia/13tribe.htm

 - and by a 17th century clergyman in New England.
"If any shall crack lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings."
http://www.nativetech.org/Nipmuc/praytown.html

It was more polite to "crack the nits between the thumb-nails".
http://www.pa-roots.com/~jefferson/history/chapter21.html

In his 16th century essay on "Custom", Montaigne discusses the
reversal of normal etiquette in a place "where they crack lice with
their teeth like monkeys, and abhor to see them killed with one`s
nails".
http://www.underthesun.cc/Classics/Montaigne/Essays/Essays1.html

Nails were used in the trenches.
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWlice.htm

In 1728, Swift wrote:

"When you saw Tady at long bullets play,
You sate and loused him all a sunshine day:
How could you, Sheelah, listen to his tales,
Or crack such lice as his between your nails?"
http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/3/6/2/13621/13621.txt

John Donne refers to this method in an intimate poem to his beloved,
hoping she has not "purpled" her nail with the blood of one particular
flea. (c.1600)
http://www.incompetech.com/authors/donne/flea.html

James Joyce uses similar imagery:
"Her shapely fingernails reddened by the blood of squashed lice from
the children's shirts."
http://www.web-books.com/Classics/Fiction/Other/Joyce_Ulysses/Ulysses_01_2.htm

Hope the "convincingly rich detail" wasn't too much for you. 

Best wishes - Leli


Search strategy:

Took a look at some first world war accounts of lice in the trenches
which reminded me I had heard the phrase "crack a louse" somewhere
before.

Then searches like: 
"crack OR cracked OR cracking lice"

and:
Donne flea
Jonathan Swift crack louse OR lice
archae0pteryx-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $3.69
Thanks, Leli.  Great job!  The Montaigne was a nice bonus.  Here's a
bit extra for you.  I wouldn't want you to think I'm a lousy tipper.

Tryx

Comments  
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: pinkfreud-ga on 15 Apr 2005 22:25 PDT
 
Howdy, Tryx!

I couldn't find an answer, but I ran into something fascinating that I
just have to share:

"But back to the 11th century... there started appearing manuals on
how to behave, at the table and away from it. The earliest such known
book was De institutone novitarum by Hugo St. Victor.

These books were addressed to monks and clerics, considered more
docile and educable than boorish nobles. As the centuries wore on, the
net was cast wider. There was much work to be done. Consider these
precepts for medieval eaters:

'It is bad manners to wear a helmet when serving ladies.' 

'Don't blow your nose with the fingers you hold the meat with.' 

'Don't stick your fingers in your ear, or scratch your head with your hands.' 

'Don't spit over or on the table.' 

And, arriving or leaving, this tip: 'It is impolite to greet someone
who is urinating or defecating.'

All this, of course, remains useful advice. 

There were also other tricky social questions. How to deal with lice,
for example. In a society that preferred to dress up rather than wash
up, lice were constant companions. Their presence could create social
problems at crucial moments.

Let us remember the murder of Thomas Ó Becket, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, killed in his cathedral by agents of the King of England,
on a December night in the 12th century. To protect against the cold
he had been wearing no fewer than eight layers of clothes.

The faithful crowded into the church to pray for his soul but, as the
body grew cold, the lice living in the multiple layers of clothes
began crawling out. The chronicler records the scene: 'The vermin
boiled over like water in a simmering cauldron, and the onlookers
burst into alternate weeping and laughter.'

The manuals of etiquette had prescribed no proper behaviour for such a
problem. By the 16th century, however, there were rules laid down for
the gentry on how to deal with lice at the table. This is a report on
the education of a French princess: 'One had carefully taught the
young princess that it was improper to take lice or fleas or other
vermin by the neck and kill them in company, except in the most
intimate circles.'

The more creative put lice to political use. In the Middle Ages in
Hurdenburg, Sweden, elections for mayor were decided by what might be
called the electoral college of vermin. The candidates sat around a
table, their heads bowed forward, their beards touching the table. A
louse was placed in the middle of the table. The owner of the beard it
chose to nest in became mayor for the following year."

CBC News: Forks, lice and feasting
http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_murray/20041221.html
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: answerfinder-ga on 16 Apr 2005 06:22 PDT
 
I haven?t stopped itching since I looked at this one.

Nothing to answer your question for that particular culture, but I did
find the following:

?Following the example of St. Francis, several Italian saints 'ate pus
or lice from poor or sick bodies, thus incorporating into themselves
the illness and misfortune of others (Bynum, Fragmentation 184'"
http://tell.fll.purdue.edu/RLA-Archive/1998/italian-html/Morrison,%20Molly.htm

Medieval Household Pest Control
http://www.granta.demon.co.uk/arsm/jg/pest.html

General background information on the history of lice on humans.
http://www.jcu.edu.au/school/phtm/PHTM/hlice/papers/kenward-1999.pdf
http://www.headlice.org/news/2003/ancient-art.htm

Captain Cooks journal of his voyages in the South Pacific.
?Another custom they have that is disagreeable to Europeans, which is
eating lice, a pretty good stock of which they generally carry about
them. However, this custom is not universal; for I seldom saw it done
but among Children and Common People, and I am perswaided that had
they the means they would keep themselves as free from lice as we do;
but the want of Combs in a Hot climate makes this hardly possible.?
http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/c/cook/james/c77j/chapter3.html


answerfinder-ga
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: emin-ga on 16 Apr 2005 10:57 PDT
 
I can?t find any mention of it on the Net now, but I recall reading
about French nobility at the court of Louis XIV having special silver
utensils for dealing with pests they pulled out of their clothes and
hair, for example special silver dishes and small hammers for killing
lice.

Ugh? Let?s be grateful for soap and running water.
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: myoarin-ga on 16 Apr 2005 18:08 PDT
 
HI Tryx,
This is a most surreptitious form of pre-sale/publishing advertising  :-)

We or friends had a cleaning girl from somewhere east of the Malaccan
Strait, and she used to crack them between her fingernails.  (Hmmm? I
know there is truth in this, but I don't know how, concerning whose
lice, the subject arose.
Probably at the time of a lice infestation in a local grammar school.)

No doubt your Flemish common folk will have known how to do this too.

And as to general manners, my mother told how at a dinner attended by
the queens of France and Spain (kings, too, probably), that one of the
fine ladies was so surprised when she saw the other scratch her head
with her fork, that she cut her tongue on her knife.  I expect that
was around 1600, when they wore large starched lace collars, I believe
they had longer forks for that reason then, too.  But forks hadn't
been introduced in "your" era, I believe.

And no, Mom wasn't there at the dinner  :-)
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 17 Apr 2005 11:58 PDT
 
Myoarin, I am sorry, but I must point out that your remark comes
unpleasantly close to accusing me of using GA for self-promotion,
which isn't funny at a time when the site has recently been flooded
with such posts and making them can get you banished forever.

What's more, I did nothing of the kind.  This is a question of genuine
curiosity, having no part in any work that I am doing, not that
anything would be amiss if it did.  When my project is done, I
certainly won't try to promote it by sneaky abuses.

I feel that some of your comments cross the line from friendly
recollection of personal particulars to presuming to read my mind and
my motives.  If I posted comments that seemed to you to be
inconsistent from one to the next, would you be there to catch me out?
 I felt similarly crowded when you told Bryan in his #506801 that I
wasn't right for a part in his pretend game.  If I had seen the
question before it closed to comments, I would have responded.  (Bryan
was right--I *would* throw the forks, even though I don't understand
the reference and have no idea what that means.)  And, my dear, there
is nothing whatsoever inappropriate in my playing along with a fellow
poster's fun fantasy no matter how many sons I have or what my plans
for the summer are.  Bryan and I have been playful responders to one
another on GA for the better part of the three years that I have been
active here.  But the games have mostly been confined to questions
that either he or I was paying for.  This is still a Q&A service and
not a social chatter e-list.

Archae0pteryx
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 17 Apr 2005 12:03 PDT
 
Pink, great find!  Are those authentic, do you think, those rules for
medieval eaters, or are they a humorous parody of some kind?  At any
rate I'll certainly think differently the next time I see a medieval
banquet listed as a featured event in some restaurant or tour.

The political application sounds wonderful.  I am thinking we should
start requiring our politicians (of both sexes) to grow beards.

Thank you--
Tryx
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 17 Apr 2005 12:12 PDT
 
Thanks, answerfinder, you really came up with some delectably
revolting detail.  I still don't see what people did with the ones
they picked off, though.  I mean, you don't just put them down.  I was
sort of expecting something like a handy little vessel containing a
lice-killing liquid and fitted with a louse-sized hole on top.  Now I
am wondering up until how recently this was an, er, active problem.

In some places it probably still is.  What do we think they do there?

Archae0pteryx
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 17 Apr 2005 12:16 PDT
 
emin, very curious detail!  Thank you.  Are there really little silver
louse hammers and coffers to be seen in cases in museums and stately
homes?  I would love to know what Miss Manners might say about this.

Ordinary folk would not be in the little-silver-hammer class, though,
and I would think that hammers of any kind might be a little rough on
your lover's hide in any case.  There still has to be a conventional
solution.  Personally, I am suspecting that the baboons have it.

Archae0peryx
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: myoarin-ga on 17 Apr 2005 15:52 PDT
 
Archae0pteryx,
I am blushing.  
I thought that the smiley after that remark made it clear that it was
not seriously meant  - at all! - just recognition of its possible
relevance to your book and, if I might add, with curious delight and
appreciation for details of midieval life that I was envisioning would
be included.
Please accept my humblest apologies.  
No doubt, as a newcomer, I have been too rash to enter into banter. 
Sorry, also for my comment in Q 506801.  It was meant as a backhanded
compliment, but I guess I got the deserved backhand.
And my apologies to others who agree with Archae0pteryx, especially
Pinkfreud, who came to my defense a couple of days ago.

Funny, just today the paper had an article about fossils, and I
discovered what an archaeopteryx is.  Do you type that out every time?
 My fingers strike.
Hopefully they also will,should I try to write something that could be
misunderstood or offend.
Arab proverb:  Allah, give me the neck of a camel, that I may chew
again and again on my words before they come out.
Salaam!
Myoarin
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 17 Apr 2005 20:33 PDT
 
Myoarin,

Apology accepted, with thanks.  I was aware that your intent was
humorous, but intentions can misfire.  In this day when a child can be
suspended from school for pointing his finger at someone and saying
"bang," we're better off not taking chances with innuendoes.  I'll
warrant there's not a fool left who still expects Airport Security to
laugh when he says, "Watch out, there's a bomb in there--ha ha."  So
it would be you taking a risk with my reputation if you hinted to some
possibly humorless watchdog that I was misusing my posting privileges.

I'll admit that I was also miffed that you thought I was dissembling. 
When I am doing research, I am usually fairly plain about it.  When I
ask just for curiosity's sake, that is truly all it is.  And I often
mention the fact because I price questions lower when they're just for
fun than if I'm seriously in need of an answer.  I expect a researcher
to see the entertainment value of the frivolous question as the main
reward (and if no one answers, I'll know they didn't).

I consider myself fairly active on the GA site, but in three years I
have logged only a few dozen more posts than you have put up in under
three months.  My advice to someone new to any group would be to wait
a little and get to know the culture before becoming too vocal.  You
have a different style, and that's fine.  But sometimes, as you say,
one can seem a bit overbearing by coming on too strong.  I wasn't
speaking for anyone but myself, however, and don't know what recent
post you are referring to.

I do type "Archae0pteryx" every time, or nearly so, and then I check
my spelling and usually have to correct it.  In my reply to emin
(above), I didn't.  There's no "arch" in it, note:  the pronunciation
starts, phonetically, with "ark," just like "archaeologist" and
"archaic."  I don't answer to "Archie."  For short, I use "Tryx," a
nickname given to me in #205341 by Pink and Bryan when I was still
going under my old nom, "Apteryx" (easier to write, but not as
interesting).

I'll try to remember your Arab proverb myself, thanks, since I've also
been known to speak out of turn and had to eat my words.

Archae0pteryx
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: myoarin-ga on 18 Apr 2005 05:23 PDT
 
And thanks back, and advice accepted.  SOmetimes it is just too
tempting to (try to) play with words.
I didn't want to take so much of your time, but you proabably compose
much faster than I do.  ('spect no one uses the verb for text
composition these days...)
Myoarin
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: leli-ga on 19 Apr 2005 04:52 PDT
 
Tryx ~

"Crack a louse" is the technical jargon you need for your investigations.

Cracking with the teeth was frowned on by Ibn Fadlan in the 10th century -
http://www.radioislam.org/historia/13tribe.htm

 - and by a 17th century clergyman in New England.
"If any shall crack lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings."
http://www.nativetech.org/Nipmuc/praytown.html

It was more polite to "crack the nits between the thumb-nails".
http://www.pa-roots.com/~jefferson/history/chapter21.html

In his 16th century essay on "Custom", Montaigne discusses the
reversal of normal etiquette in a place "where they crack lice with
their teeth like monkeys, and abhor to see them killed with one`s
nails".
http://www.underthesun.cc/Classics/Montaigne/Essays/Essays1.html

Nails were used in the trenches.
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWlice.htm

In 1728, Swift wrote:

"When you saw Tady at long bullets play,
You sate and loused him all a sunshine day:
How could you, Sheelah, listen to his tales,
Or crack such lice as his between your nails?"
http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/3/6/2/13621/13621.txt

John Donne refers to this method in an intimate poem to his beloved,
hoping she has not "purpled" her nail with the blood of one particular
flea. (c.1600)
http://www.incompetech.com/authors/donne/flea.html

James Joyce has a similar image:
"Her shapely fingernails reddened by the blood of squashed lice from
the children's shirts."
http://www.web-books.com/Classics/Fiction/Other/Joyce_Ulysses/Ulysses_01_2.htm

I'm afraid I haven't found any studies on the relative popularity of
swallowing, wiping or flicking for disposal of cracked lice.
This anonymous poet had a "chum" who was a wiper:
http://oldpoetry.com/oprint/25415

Leli
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 19 Apr 2005 21:12 PDT
 
You're a marvel, Leli.  Your answers have scratched the itch!  Gave me
a good shudder, too, with all that convincingly rich detail.  What a
difference it makes to know the word of art, just like having the
right tool for the job.

I invite you to post your answer.  Feel free to post as a reference to
your illuminating comment.

Thank you,
Tryx
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: leli-ga on 22 Apr 2005 10:03 PDT
 
Thank you so much for your appreciative response, Tryx.

Indeed I don't crack my nails together when I think of you and your tips and stars.

I'm truly grateful that you gave me a reason to pick through search
results looking for little half-hidden trophies.

Thanks again - Leli
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 22 Apr 2005 17:03 PDT
 
Leli,

Thanks for your response.  You've restored my faith.  I was starting
to think that GA researchers were getting so accustomed to receiving
tips that they'd stopped noticing them.  Several times lately I've
tipped researchers, in one case quite lavishly, without a word of
acknowledgment in return.  It's made me think twice about giving them.

Tryx
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: pinkfreud-ga on 22 Apr 2005 17:25 PDT
 
Tryx,

Regarding the matter of a Researcher failing to offer thanks for a
tip, this may not be rudeness on the part of the GAR. Neither a rating
nor a tip is an event which triggers automatic notification by email,
so it is quite possible that a Researcher may fail to notice that a
tip has been given. We are notified by email when an answer requires
clarification, but ratings and tips are things that we have to keep an
eye out for, on our own. I check the page which lists my recent
answers frequently, but not everyone does so.

Best,
Pink
Subject: Re: Lice and grooming
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 22 Apr 2005 20:05 PDT
 
Thanks for the explanation, Pink.  However, now I'm a bit confused. 
In tlspiegel's answer to my #469943, she showed me how researchers
receive tips, and from that I inferred that the information was quite
distinct and conspicuous.  Maybe some people *are* just getting blasÚ
about it.  I've never seen you fail to comment, though (or Leli), and
I'm sure your tippers truly appreciate that.

Tryx

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