Human beings indulge in a range of affectionate behaviors, including hugging, kissing, handshakes and high-fives. But one of the most curious of couplings is the so-called "French kiss," where the tongues of two people make contact, presumably for the purpose of sexual stimulation. French kissing is a well-established expression of love across many of the world's cultures, but the first person to try it must have been quite brave. Who was this person?
References to open-mouth kissing appear in a number of ancient texts, with the earliest mention appearing in Sanskrit works around 1500 B.C.E. [source: Kirshenbaum, The Daily Beast]. In the famous Kama Sutra text from the third century C.E., the places on the body designated for kissing include lips and the interior of the mouth, suggesting that tongue kissing was being practiced in India by that time [source: The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana].
One hypothesis for the evolution of tongue kissing is that it occurred as a natural consequence of feeding offspring in mammal populations [source: Lorenzi]. However, this doesn't explain why the practice was adopted in some human societies, but not others. There are multiple instances across the globe of human communities that had never heard of tongue kissing before contact with Europeans — and were disgusted by the very suggestion of it [source: Foer].
For the widespread practice of kissing in Europe, we can thank the Romans, who described kissing in three forms: the osculum (a friendly peck on the cheek), the basium (a more erotic kiss on the lips) and the savium (the most passionate of kisses on the mouth) [source: Lorenzi]. In Roman society, when, where and how you kissed someone was an important indicator of social status.
The term "French kiss" was likely coined by American and British servicemen in France during World War I who noticed that Gallic women were more open to employing the erotic technique than their American counterparts [source: Kirshenbaum]. So, while the French were clearly not the first people to engage in French kissing, it seems fair that they are given credit for it due to the amorous enthusiasms of French lovers a century ago.
Interestingly, the French had no specific word for its famous export until very recently. The verb galocher, defined as "kissing with tongues," was added to the French dictionary Le Petit Robert in 2014 [source: Neuman]. Appearing in this popular yet unofficial dictionary doesn't give any mere collection of letters the credentials of a proper French word, however; there is no mention of galocher in the Academie Francaise, the 378-year-old regulator of the French language [source: Dewey].
These days, French kissing is so popular that a team of Japanese researchers recently invented a French kissing machine, in which couples that are separated are able to connect via straw-like devices that work through a computer [source: Yin]. That's some impressive dedication to a long-distance relationship.
Based on these facts, it's clear that French kissing did not begin in France. However, it's equally clear that we have the open hearts (and mouths) of French lovers at the start of the 20th century to thank for the term. Merci beaucoup!
- Burton, Neel. Personal correspondence. April 7, 2015.
- Dewey, Caitlin. "France finally coins a French word for French kiss." Washington Post. May 30, 2014. (April 7, 2015) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/05/30/france-finally-coins-a-french-word-for-french-kiss/
- Foer, Joshua. "The kiss of life." The New York Times. Feb. 14, 2006. (April 7, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/14/opinion/14foer.html?_r=0
- "French kiss, v." OED Online. (April 7, 2015) http://www.oed.com/search?searchType=dictionary&q=french+kiss&_searchBtn=Search
- Kirshenbaum, Sheril. "The history of kissing." Daily Beast. Feb. 2, 2013. (April 7, 2015) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/02/13/history-of-kissing-from-ancient-rome-to-modern-day-by-sheril-kirshenbaum.html
- Kirshenbaum, Sheril. Personal correspondence. April 7, 2015.
- Lorenzi, Rossella. "Kissing's Long History: A Timeline." Discovery News. Feb. 14, 2013. (April 7, 2015) http://news.discovery.com/history/history-of-kissing-130214.htm
- Neuman, Scott. "A Kiss Is But A Kiss, But To French Kiss Is 'Galocher.'" NPR. May 30, 2013. (May 15, 2015) http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/05/30/187345073/a-kiss-is-but-a-kiss-but-to-french-kiss-is-galocher
- Vatsyayana. "The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana." (April 7, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=-ElAAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=kama+sutra+chapter+on+kissing&source=bl&ots=0plQnGgpaU&sig=eC1RPgNfaChqwKkcQJ1Q6d5uzQM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=d6srVe6NGOXnsATcsICICw&ved=0CE8Q6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=kama%20sutra%20chapter%20on%20kissing&f=false
- Yin, Sara. "Japanese researchers invent kissing machine." PCMagazine. May 5, 2011, (April 7, 2015) http://uk.pcmag.com/robotics-automation-products/9122/news/japanese-researchers-invent-french-kissing-machine