Kissing. Lovely habit. Feels so good to deliver and to receive unless the kiss is forced on us by a coarse and bearded old aunt who favors onerous and repeated osculation. Ah, but if a smooch is dispatched by a person — or even an animal — one likes or loves, there’s nothing sweeter, right?

Kisses are given out in any manner of ways; a dry peck from an embarrassed kid; wet and startling from a towering blue-tongued giraffe; slobbering from an adoring bull mastiff; or a long, lingering passionate performance by someone’s significant other. All interesting. Or shocking. Or sexy. Or gross. It depends.

And studies show — don’t you love that phrase — that people who kiss goodbye every morning before work don’t get sick as much, don’t miss work as much and don’t have as many wrecks on the way to work. They earn more money than kissless people and live five years longer than the couples who merely snarl at each other every morning. Amazing. Who does these studies anyway?

They say that around 2000 BC, certain cultures truly believed that if mouths were pressed together, it meant two souls were joined. Anthropologist Vaughn Bryant Jr., after extensive studies, announced that the very first erotic kiss was given around 1500 BC. OK.

Now don’t you think that’s just a bit presumptive of Dr. Bryant Jr.? I mean, the first one? And he’d know that how?  And who made the first move? Well, it probably doesn’t much matter when erotic kissing began since the habit has certainly caught on over the millennia.

Egyptians considered kissing as the “giving of life,” which in many cases it sure is. Celts had no word for kiss so maybe they just never did it.

Romans sort of started the kissing practice as we know it today. They kissed as a greeting on the mouth, eyes, robes, rings and even dropped a smack or three on nearby statues — of gods, of course. They were smart people and understood that routine groveling was just simply prudent. And the Romans also broke kissing styles into three categories: osculum for friendship kissing; basium for passionate and savium for deep. Those Romans really knew how to categorize, you know, just as they did with the calendar and the census they sent to us. And some African tribes today will still kiss the ground over which their chief walks. Now that’s serious groveling.

There’s lots of history around kissing. And lots of questions, and one of mine is this: Who invented the idea of it? I mean, when you think about it, two people pressing two organs together originally invented for tasting, eating,  chewing, breathing, spitting and speaking is a little weird, right? And regardless of how circumspect one’s dental hygiene habits are, mouths are just, simply, well, impure.

So really, all kidding aside, where did kissing come from? Who thought of it and why? And who decided that a kiss on the cheek should be that quick sucking sound made with O-shaped lips? It’s strange when you think about it, right?  Well, I suppose it’s more genteel than biting.

Maybe kissing started from our ancestors watching animals hurl up their semi-digested foods for their hungry offspring. And if kissing did start that way, well, eeewww. You see, when I do think about it, I get this vision of Mr. and Mrs. Oolggak passing a few bored hours with a bit of slap and tickle in their suburban cave 500,000 years ago while the kids are out scratching up a few bloodworm snacks.  

In this vision of mine, the amorous couple is distracted by a huge stork-like creature on a nearby rock gagging up a few slimy gobs of bloody rats for their hungry chicks. Daddy Oolggak turns to Mommy Oolggak, grins, gestures toward the stork and cocks a large and very hairy eyebrow suggestively. Mommy O. looks at what the stork is doing, and back at Daddy O., and in very clear grunts says, “Not for all the mammoth blubber in the glade, Throg. Don’t even think about it!” And she rolls away on her pile of hides.  

But maybe Daddy Oolggak persevered on that long-ago afternoon, and with the use of a little love gruntage and cues from the stork, perhaps Mrs. O. finally cave. And that’s how kissing maybe got started. Gaggo.

And yet kissing actually maybe did kind of begin that way. Mothers used to chew up food for their babies and would transfer it to their children’s mouths from their own. When Fred Waring heard about that, I’ll bet he immediately invented the blender, and then, of course, it only followed that baby food was created soon after ending all that nasty chewing and sharing vulgarity.

Along came 1896 and motion pictures were developed by Thomas Edison. One of the very first films was “The Kiss,” which lasted for 47 seconds. A chubby woman and a mustachioed man kissed joyfully, and it was so shocking that a movie critic, new to the business, of course, because there weren’t any other movies around for him to critique, said, “The spectacle of the prolonged pasturing on each other’s lips was beastly enough in life-size on the stage but magnified to gargantuan proportions on the screen and repeated three times over is absolutely disgusting.”

Oh please, what a prude! I mean come on. But ‘pasturing’? What is that? An 1800s word for kissing? I don’t get, it but I just love it! Would it not be of great interest to read what that rascally critic would say about any one of today’s adult films when pasturing is the least of what they show on screen? Impossible to imagine. He’d keel over in his buttered popcorn.

But in spite of Mr. Prig’s film critiquing, even songs and poems, paintings and, yes, films have had bussing as a central theme, and nearly all of our movies end in the traditional, famous last-scene kiss telling the audience that all is well between the protagonists forever.

But those movie kisses over the years have changed from normal, gentle, dry, short kisses — such as between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — to today’s long, slobbering, open-mouthed, tongue thrashing, tonsil sucking, growling, bacteria splashing, face-chewing kisses between every actor on screen. And the two kissers are not always of the opposite sex either. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The most famous of all kissing depictions, of course, is Auguste Rodin’s sensual, magnificent statue, “The Kiss,” sculpted in the 1880s. The man and woman are simply beautiful and they are nude.

Their lips don’t quite touch, but they’re definitely about to. That great statue has been praised and worshiped. It has also been vilified as being pure pornography. But I have to make note. If those ignorant idiots who think the statue is pornographic were in the least bit clever, they would have called it “hard porn” because, of course, it is made with marble.

But how can they not see and understand that the couple in that fabulous statue, just about to begin pasturing, has given the world much joy, so much fun and sweet, deep, good feelings of love? Rodin’s work has been a primer and catalyst, a permission giver, and “The Kiss” is the stuff dreams are made of. Merci, Monsieur Rodin.

LC Van Savage is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. She can be reached at:
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