“Me and my highly vocal arseropes…”
Happily, I am used to belly laughs, or ‘boffolas’ as they used to be called. Working alongside some of the land’s funniest comedians on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown regularly makes my sides ache from heavy chortling.
But the ‘belly’ part of ‘belly laughter’ is not always such a happy state of affairs. In fact, being a relatively shy person, my stomach is probably the noisiest thing about me.
I may even describe myself as ‘ventripotent’, a word that means ‘powerfully bellied’ and which nicely flips the negative into the positive if you’re feeling The Bulge at this time of the year. I am, if anything, too skinny, but I’ve decided my stomach has a different kind of superpower, and it likes to shout about it from the rooftops.
I was reminded of this recently when recording the audio version of my children’s book, in which I’ve shared 100 words that give me joy and hope. There is significant evidence that when we articulate happy words, we begin to feel that happiness inside, and so reading the book aloud was a genuinely gorgeous experience.
I glided from familiar words such as ‘halcyon’ and ‘meander’ to old gems like ‘ruthful’ and ‘respair’ with a sense of peace and contentment. All seemed to be going swimmingly.
Too swimmingly, of course. Sitting in a tiny ‘deadroom’ – an ominous name for a space devoid of echo or reverberation (if you stand in one for long enough, the sound of the blood in your ears can apparently send you insane) – I became acutely aware of a cacophony in my headphones. And it was coming from me.
It took me a few befuddled moments to realise that I was experiencing the curse of the Dent clan: borborygmus, aka acute gurgling of the gut.
‘Honestly, please don’t worry,’ was the refrain of Rich, the lovely sound engineer who clearly has infinite patience. ‘It happens to everyone.’ But as the curmurring increased and my stomach began to emit noises ranging from thunderous growling to a petulant wail, we would be forced to stop for yet another ‘clean’ pick-up and even Rich would periodically look up, startled.
I tried holding in my stomach so tightly that my voice came out as a breathy squeak, but that only made things worse. As did the endless peppermint teas and pieces of toast (which I naively thought might expand enough to become a stomachy shock absorber).
A grumbling for all emotions
My highly vocal arseropes, as we once called our intestines (the word even appears in a 14th-century version of the Bible), wasn’t a new discovery. I found out in my teens that when it comes to a grumbling in my groozlins (there’s another one), I don’t just stop at hunger.
Emotion of any kind – be it stress, fear or excitement – can set off a humiliating humdinger of a rumble in an instant. The only thing that made the profound sadness of my grandmother’s funeral at all bearable was the unspeakably loud rumbling of my aunt’s intestines, which of course my own decided to accompany throughout the eulogy.
I’m sure there are many readers who have felt the same qualms and queasiness when it comes to having to sit somewhere quietly.
The nervous anticipation of a bout of borborygmus of course only brings it on more quickly.
So as well as harnessing ‘ventripotent’, maybe we should also pinch a word from the 16th century, ‘bellygod’, meaning a gluttonous lover of food, perhaps also useful for one who lets their belly do the talking.
Clearly, for some of us, our bread baskets have a mind and vocabulary of their own. Next time I go anywhere near a deadroom, I’ll give my intestines a microphone and leave them to it.