Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Everyone nose: We all pick our noses

Seinfeld, “The Pick”
Screenshot: YouTube
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: Nose-picking

What it’s about: If your nose starts bleeding, it means you’re picking it too much, or not enough! While we like to pretend that all of humanity is linked by innate goodness, or a love of our families, or a need for basic human connection, come on, just take a quick look around and it’s obvious none of those things are true. The one thing everyone in the world has in common is that we all pick our nose, and we all don’t want to cop to it. But Wikipedia knows what you’ve been up to.

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Biggest controversy: That kid in your first-grade class who ate his boogers may have been a homeopathic trendsetter. Austrian pulmonary specialist Friedrich Bischinger is quoted as saying nasal mucus is a “cocktail of antiseptic enzymes that kill or weaken many of the bacteria that become entangled in it.” In other words, your snot is full of germs, so eating it will give your immune system more practice fighting those germs in small amounts.

Strangest fact: If you’re not eating your boogers, it’s not for lack of effort on your body’s part. Your nasal cavity produces mucus to absorb dust and germs. The cavity’s lining has cilia designed to move mucus “toward the throat, where it can be swallowed.” However, mucus closer to what we in the medical profession call the nose holes is exposed to the air and dries out, becoming boogers. Ah, the wondrous glory of the human body, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
Screenshot: YouTube

Thing we were happiest to learn: Someone took the time to record nose-picking stats. A 1995 study found that the average person picks four times a day, and that 91% of respondents were “current nose-pickers,” but only 75% believed “everyone did it.” One respondent reported spending between one and two hours a day picking their nose.

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Thing we were unhappiest to learn: That doctor who wants you to eat your boogers is likely doing the public a disservice. Nose-picking can spread infection in both directions—not washing your hands afterwards can spread germs from your nose to the rest of the world, and picking with dirty fingers, as Wikipedia puts it, “may include an increase in the diversity of nose flora,” which is a fancy way to say your dirty fingers are putting germs into your already-dirty nostrils.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: For something more reliably beneficial than booger-eating but not that much less gross, there’s nasal irrigation. The practice involves pouring salt water or saline solution into one nostril until it fills the nasal passages and pours out the other nostril. The intent is to flush out mucus and debris from the sinuses and nasal passages, which is on the whole beneficial, although side effects can include nosebleeds, headache, risk of infection, and “drainage after the irrigation is done.” The process originated centuries ago as a Shatkama technique, a part of hatha yoga that involves cleansing and purifying the body.

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“That’s some nice flutin’, boy.” Ralph Wiggum in The Simpsons
Screenshot: YouTube

Further down the Wormhole: Pop culture’s poster boy for nose-picking is Ralph Wiggum, every Simpsons fan’s favorite non sequitur-spouting 8-year-old. While the first decade or so of the show’s 30-year run was some of the most hilarious and groundbreaking television in the history of the medium, the show eventually lost some of its magic, as the rapid-fire pace of jokes slackened, and the series came to rely too heavily on celebrity guest stars. The show has had so many guest voices, in fact, that Wikipedia split them up into two pages. Part two of the list of Simpsons guest stars includes names booked for the upcoming 31st season—among them: Olivia Colman, Werner Herzog, and Dame Jane Goodall. The world’s foremost experts on chimpanzees, Goodall lived among the animals in Tanzania to chronicle their behavior, crediting them with personalities, human-like affection, tool use, and even warfare. We’ll look at the Gombe Chimpanzee War, which Dr. Goodall chronicled, next week.

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About the author

Mike Vago

Author of five books, including Selfdestructible, his first novel. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.