Posted by The Fallen on January 17, 2002

In Reply to: Blowin' smoke posted by ESC on January 16, 2002

: : Got this by email:

: : I recently read your posting on the origin of "Blowing smoke up my ass". I
: : don't post on the internet, but I thought you might be interested in some
: : information from Jan Bondeseson's new, relatively scholarly book "Buried
: : Alive, The Terrifying History of our Most Primal Fear". Apparently, it has
: : not always been easy to determine if someone is truly dead. This is a quote
: : from Mr. Bondeson's book:

: : "Antoine Louis had also proposed another method of testing life, or at least
: : stimulating the vital spark in the apparently dead person: with a powerful
: : bellows, he administered an enema of tobacco smoke. One of the pipes of
: : this remarkable apparatus was thrust into the anus of the apparently dead
: : person; the other was connected, by way of a powerful bellows, to a large
: : furnace full of tobacco (reference 5). Such enemas of tobacco smoke were
: : thought to be very beneficiel and were used to try to revive not only people
: : presumed dead but also drowned or unconscious individuals. In 1784, the
: : Belgian physician P.J.B. Previnaire was given a prize by the Academy of
: : Sciences in Brussels for a book on apparent death, which described and
: : depicted an improved bellows for enemas of tobacco smoke, which he called
: : Der Doppelblaser (reference 6). These enemas were regularly used well into
: : the nineteenth century, particularly in Holland; modern science has
: : discerned no physiological rationale for their use, except the pain and
: : indignity of having a blunt instrument violently thrust up one's rear
: : passage must have had some restorativbe effect (reference 7)."

: : The text is accompanied by patent illustrations of the Doppelblaser witht he
: : following explanation, "The fearful-looking Doppelblaser, an apparatus for
: : administering enemas to ttest the viability of cprpses, described in Dr.
: : P.J.B Previnaire's Abhandlung Uper die verschiedenen Arten des Scheintodes
: : (Leipzig, 1790)."

: : Another illustration bears the caption, " A brave German doctor administers
: : an enema of tobacco smoke to a corpse in this curious late
: : eighteenth-century plate. From the author's collection."

: : I leave it to you and the discussion board to determine if this could be the
: : origin of this phrase. Although the topic is somewhat distasteful, I
: : recommend Mr. Bondeson's book (ISBN 0-393-04906-X). Please don't use my
: : name if you choose to post any of this.

: : Sincerely,
: : [name withheld]

: Here I was getting ready to accuse Bob of blowing smoke. But there actually is such a book -- available on

Hmmm. I'm a tad more cynical. It seems almost too perfect, so I suspect mischief. Antoine Louis was the celebrated surgeon who improved upon the original design of the Guillotine - so certainly a genuine French medical figure of the era. As to P. J. B. Previnaire, I can find no mention nor record of this supposedly award-winning and important Belgian medical figure on the web - and let's face it, given that there are apocryphally so few famous Belgians (how many can you name?), I'm sure that this one would have been feted. In addition, it's a little surprising that a Belgian would have written his treatise in German, which I also suspect of being grammatically incorrectly titled (...Abhandlung uber denen... but I may be entirely wrong on this).

There is coincidentally a contemporary Belgian (or possibly French) medico called Previnaire, who is a specialist in respiration, from what I can gather on the www. All in all, I think that on balance someone has his/her tongue firmly in his/her cheek. Colour me cynical :)