Bite

Body movement. The act of closing one's jaws tightly to cut, grip, grasp, or tear with the teeth, as in a. eating a Big Mac® sandwich, b. clenching the jaws in frustration and anger, or c. inflicting pain.

Usage: Our animal nature shows clearly in the eagerness with which we may bite our enemies. In New York City, e.g., ca. 1,500 human beings report having been bitten by other humans each year (Conn and Silverman 1991:86). (N.B.: This is five times greater than the reported figure for rat bites [Wurman 1989:177].) In 1981, in Norfolk, Virginia, a traveling salesman was convicted of attacking a woman and biting off her nose.

Anatomy. The muscles of mastication are the masseterand temporalis (which close the mouth); and the lateral and medial pterygoids and anterior belly ofthe digastric (which open the mouth).

Biology. 1. "As soon as a young mouse has its teeth, it will turn around and try to bite anything which pinches its tail" (Scott 1975:7). 2. "Don't assume your dog won't bite. The most common statement from dog owners after a carrier has been bitten is, 'He's/She's never bitten anyone before!'" (flyer distributed in 2000 by the U.S. Post Office).

Evolution. Along with their role in chewing and eating, our remote ancestors' jaws, jaw muscles, and teeth played a defensive role: the face was used as a weapon (as is dramatically the case today, e.g., in crocodiles, gorillas, and grizzly bears).

Media. 1. In their televised June 28, 1997 boxing rematch, challenger Mike Tyson committed a major foul by biting off a one-inch piece of Evander Holyfield's ear and spitting it onto the floor of the ring. Two points were deducted from his score, but in the third round Tyson tried to bite Holyfield's other ear and was disqualified from the competition. 2. On June 9, 2001, San Francisco Chronicle executive editor Phil Bronstein (husband of actress Sharon Stone) was attacked and bitten on the foot at the Los Angeles Zoo by a Komodo dragon. "A zookeeper had asked Bronstein [who was on a private tour because he ". . . had always wanted to see a Komodo dragon up close."] to remove his white tennis shoes to keep the 5-foot-long reptile from mistaking them for the white rats it is fed, Bronstein told the Chronicle" (Anonymous 2001G:A2).

Neuro-notes. The muscles of biting are innervated by mandibular branches of the trigeminal nerve (cranial V, an emotionally sensitive special visceral nerve). Acting through the trigeminal's motor nucleus, emotional stimuli associated , e.g., with anger, may cause the jaw muscles to contract in uncontrollable biting movements.

Antonym: JAW-DROOP.

Copyright © 1998 - 2001 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)

mixed with wheat flour by pastry chefs for centuries. Roasted seeds add a nutty flavor, which appeals to the primate palate. Seeds provide tactile enjoyment for the tongue, as well (in reptiles the tongue evolved as a sensory organ for touch; see EXISTENTIAL CRUNCH).

Layers LL & VLLL: Meat. The browning reaction of cooked beef releases furans, pyrones, and other carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules which provide the complex oniony, chocolaty, nutty, fruity, and caramel-like tastes we prefer to the bland taste of uncooked flesh (McGee 1990). At the heart of a Big Mac are two ground-beef patties, whose cooked flavor compounds would have been familiar to Homo erectus in Africa 1.6 m.y.a.

Layer LLL: Pickle horizon. Gherkins, eaten in India with salt or lemon juice for 3,000 years, came to Europe during the Renaissance. Along with their crunchy texture, pickles add a primary sour taste which has been enjoyed with lettuce since the Roman era.

Layers LV & X: Lettuce. A Big Mac contains 1/4 cup of chopped head-lettuce (Lactuca sativa), a plant preferred by the ancient Greeks above all other greens. Wild lettuce was prized for the soothing properties of its magnesium content, as an aid to digestion. Because of a burger's high fat content, our enteric nervous system considers lettuce a welcome ingredient today.

Layers V & XL: Onions. One-half teaspoon of finely diced onion, a root bulb, appears in each of two strata. An onion's volatile sulphur compounds evolved as warning messages to deter hungry grubs and insects (see SECONDARY PRODUCTS). Wild onions were used 4,000 years ago by Egyptian peasants to season bland meals, and Egyptian mummies sometimes included onions, wrapped in separate bandages, as carry-out for the afterlife.

Layers VL & XLL: Sauce. Sauce adds moisture, required for the tongue to taste chemicals in solution. Sweet and sour sauces have flavored meats for thousands of years, and the Big Mac uses a variant of thousand-island dressing (made from salad oil, orange and lemon juice, minced onion, paprika, Worcestershire sauce (a spicy Indian recipe), dry mustard, parsley, and salt). The nonverbal secret of a Big Mac is the riddle of its sauce.

Layer LX: Cheese. A layer of American cheese lies above the lettuce horizon. Cuneiform tablets place cheese in the Near East by ca. 6,000 years ago. Cheese sends salty signals to the tongue tip, and its smoothness blends well with the coarser texture of beef. Flavorful fatty acids and esters of glycerol in cheese satisfy a natural craving for fat.

Neuro-notes. While the subtlety of cabernet, truffles, and haute cuisine is processed by higher brain centers, capable of culinary learning, the primary tastes of fast food are handled subcortically a. in the thalamus, and b. in a buried part of the cerebral cortex called the insula (which is emotionally linked to the amygdala and limbic system). Like primary colors, the basic bitter, salty, sour, and sweet tastes of fast-food coffee, fries, pickles, and soda make brash rather than subtle statements.

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