Biology Lesson

Hey friends.  I’m back again with my science cap on to teach you more stuff about things.  Do scientists wear caps?  I think I made that up.  Maybe I should have said lab coat and stethoscope and that headband with the shiny metal disc on the top.  Does anyone know what I’m talking about?  Because I sure as hell don’t.

Let’s talk about body fluids.

Body fluids are liquids that are either excreted or secreted from the body.  Excreted means to shit it out, basically.  I’m just going to be perfectly frank about that because this is science and science is serious business.  Secrete means to ooze or be released, secretly, while no one is looking.  Like that one time a girl I know got so drunk in Las Vegas, when she woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom she secreted on another friend’s suitcase thinking it was the toilet.  I KNOW YOU ARE THINKING THIS WAS ME – because it sounds like a terrible thing I would do, I admit it – BUT IT WAS NOT ME.  Pinky swear.

I decided, after some consideration, to make this a series of posts rather than cram it all into one five million word missive on all the liquids swishing around inside us and, sometimes, spewing out of us.  Each post in the series will explore WITH GREAT HILARITY AND ACCURACY (there will be no accuracy) the form and function of two vital fluids.  Let us begin with vomit and tears.


In Albania there is a place called the Puke District and this has nothing to do with bodily fluids but it sure is funny based on how I snorted when I read that.

My friend Kim says vomit is like “tears of the mouth.”

Vomiting is known in medical terminology as emesis, which stems from the Greek word backwards 3, backwards 4, backwards 3, looks like a W, meaning “I vomit”  Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth and/or nose and if you want to know what that looks like you can come over when I feed my cat because he vomits on the carpet nearly every time he eats, even though there’s a perfectly good tile floor where he could do it and make cleaning up a million times easier DON’T GET ME STARTED. Vomiting can occur for a variety of reasons, including food poisoning and the flu.  I caught a terrible strain of flu about 10 years ago and ever since then I pee my pants when I throw up in a veritable explosion of body fluids.  It’s like a two-for-one sale except instead of paying money to get two times something awesome, life steals your dignity.

The feeling that one is about to vomit is called nausea, which comes to us from the Greek word for “motion sickness” or “wamble”, and is an uneasiness in the stomach with an urge to vomit.  An attack of nausea is called a qualm and I guess I finally get what it means when someone says they have “no qualms” about something so YAY for science.  I think we’re all a little smarter just now. You’re welcome.

When one vomits profusely it may cause tears in the esophagus which results in bleeding, a condition called a Mallory-Weiss tear, but isn’t at all about Family Ties.  I had this once in conjunction with a terrible headache and Janie had to drive me to the doctor because I thought I might die, but I also couldn’t stop laughing in the car because my retching noises were so godawful and I was sitting in the front seat puking into a paper bag and trying with every ounce of my willpower not to pee all over the place.  GOOD TIMES.

Vomiting is controlled by a part of the brain called the Area postrema located at the fourth ventricle.  I didn’t know brains had ventricles and so it took me about four hours before I realized that this is in our brain and not heart, you guys.  I ARE GOOD AT SCIENCE.  It’s surrounded by something something sciency somethings .  Just click HERE and read it for yourselves because when I tried to read it I couldn’t understand a single word.  “I don’t know, Jim. This is a big ship. I’m just a country doctor!”  Whatever.  Nothing in this is true except for all of it HAHAHA…you’ll never know, suckas!


The production of tears is called Lacramotion or LINSEY STOP BEING SUCH A BABY.  It’s a secretomotor process which basically means that a structure has the ability to make a gland secrete a substance.  Like how when I crack mad jokes and Valerie secretes herself from laughing so hard THIS IS A REAL THING THAT HAPPENS I AM HILARIOUS.  The actual purpose and function of crying – the act of shedding tears due to FEELINGS – is somewhat unknown but back in the days when science was done by throwing rocks in the air and shouting at the sun, it was believed that tears released excess humors.  Humors aren’t jokes, you guys, but don’t worry because I thought that too and said THAT’S DUMB BECAUSE HUMORS MAKE YOU LAUGH NOT CRY. SCIENCE IS WORTHLESS!  But listen.  Humors are the four distinct body fluids that Greeks and Romans based their science on, believing that if they were all in balance then we were healthy, and that all diseases of the body and mind came about from a deficiency or excess of one or more.  NICE TRY STUPID, but let’s give them credit for trying and for getting us to believe this was a real thing for over 2000 years.  LIARS.  The four humors were thought to be black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood but now WHO CARES.  WRONG!

According to Wikipedia, “strong emotion…irritation of the eyes and yawning may lead to an increased production of tears, or crying.”  I”d also like to add: holidays, epic migraines, watching tampon commercials and the first 30 minutes of the movie Return to Me.

Women cry more then men to the tune of five times per month versus once a month.  This increases during our lady times (up to 5 times more than average! IMAGINE TWO LADIES IN LOVE ON THE SAME CYCLE AND YOU WILL KNOW WHAT HELL LOOKS LIKE) because lady times are terrible times where everything bad happens to a woman all at once THE HORROR!  Men cry for up to four minutes and women up to six and only a small fraction of men’s crying turns to sobbing.  The ladies really kick ass here by turning their crying into sobbing a generous 60% of the time, handing an easy win to the emotionally fragile females. GO TEAM.

Our bodies offer us three basic varieties of tears.  How nice!  Choices! First is Basal Tears.  Basal tears are not to be confused with Basil Tears, the band I just started in my mind.  We do a sort of German-folk/Christian metal hybrid with a hint of Zydeco.  Every song ends with me crying while I cut fresh basil and make a Caprese Salad.

Basal tears lubricate and nourish the cornea in mammals.  If you wanted to make your own tears, you would need water, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, and potassium.  But the easiest way to get fresh, free tears is to look at me and say “remember that dead crow you saw that time?” or “I broke your phone.”

The reflexive tears are controlled by the trigeminal nerve and if this is cut, there are no reflexive tears anymore but I’ll still be able to cry because this doesn’t affect tears that come from my VERY MANY FEELINGS.  Reflexive tears come to us from irritants like onion vapors, tear gas, getting poked in the eye while playing Three Stooges with your four year old niece, or when Valerie’s dog, Lucy, opens her mouth IT SMELLS LIKE GARBAGE IN THERE.  TRUE STORY: When my great-aunt passed away, my parents were charged with handling her estate.  Part of that was packing up her house and preparing to sell it.  While my sister packed items from her desk, I was looking inside the closet.  My sister pulled what looked like a pen from a drawer and said, WHAT IS THIS?  I turned around just as a small blast of tear gas shot across the room and into my armpit.  IT BURNS! My dad came running in asking WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN HERE and then we all had to evacuate the house and sit on the porch drying our reflexive tears for several hours while we aired out the entire upstairs.

Last but MOST IMPORTANT TO ME are psychic tears, also known as crying, weeping and weeknights at Linsey’s house.  These are tears that come as a reaction to emotional stress, anger, physical pain or when my sister said she could help me move on a Sunday but not on a Saturday.  Psychic tears are somewhat chemically different than their counterparts, as they contain more protein-based hormones, one of which is a natural pain killer.  I’m going to bottle my psychic tears and sell them on the streets!

FUN FACT: There is a genetic disorder called Cri du chat, French for call of the cat, which isn’t about construction workers whistling at the ladies, but is actually named for the fact that infants with this mutation cry like a meowing kitten. Weird!

MORE FUN FACT: The term crocodile tears stems from a symptom of Bell’s palsy – a facial nerve disorder –  and refers to a rare occurrence of the salivary gland being erroneously connected to the lacrimal gland, causing one to shed tears when smelling foods or eating.  Based on this information I think I had Bells palsy last Thursday while eating some chicken.

This episode of Uncouth Science is now concluded.  Take this information and share it with friends, family and unsuspecting strangers.  Please keep an eye out for another episode wherein we will dive into two more body fluids:  sweat and urine. Until then, science friends, here’s hoping you  vomit and cry responsibly, but not uncontrollably.



  1. April 25, 2012

    I totally get psychic tears. I totally wish I didn’t.

    also, science says you should post again next week. at least.

  2. Elaine
    April 25, 2012

    OMG! I think my neighbor’s 2 kids both have Cri du chat! When they are out in their yard and start crying, which inevitably happens every 45 seconds mygodtheyarethewhiniestkids, they sound like a Volvo stalling out. I go in my house to escape the awful sound. So maybe they suffer from Cri du Volvo? Is that a thing?

  3. May 1, 2012

    We should totally swap dead crow stories. Mine involves a decapitated crow, actually, which is worse than a run of the mill dead crow. So I’m sure my story will beat yours.

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