Did you know there are two types of tickling?

Category: Language Adventures

January 8, 2024

Did you know there are two types of tickling?  

Knismesis is the soft, feather-like tickling, perhaps what a baby feels when his mother is lightly stroking his cheek or when a ladybug lands on your arm. This tickling often causes someone to have an itching sensation. An exploring spider, or worse yet, a cockroach, would likely have the same itching response.   So, although knismesis can be perceived as threatening or non-threatening, it bears little resemblance to its potential evil sister, gargalesis.

Gargalesis is a scientific term for that forceful tickle a dad gives that sends his child into a giggling convulsion.  The child is likely screaming STOP STOP in the midst of hysterical laughing.   A wise and fun-loving dad lets up, and the child quickly recovers.  But what might a teen do to an annoying sibling?

Gargalesis, the forceful act of applying pressure to sensitive spots, is not always harmless. Laughing is not an indication of enjoyment but rather an involuntary reflex.    In fact, the intense tickling of gargalesis has been used in history as a torture technique. 

I was curious as to what cultures have tortured with gargalesis.  Finding information is not easy or necessarily accurate.

Bard tells me that as a language model, it cannot help.

Chat GPT says medieval Europe may have used it but could not tell me much else.  I asked if anything had been written in history about gargalesis, and it said it could not locate anything but told me I might have luck with checking torture manuals.  I logged off.

However, Bing proved much more helpful by providing citations for its sources.  These sources say gargalesis originated in the Han Dynasty in BC 260.  

Also, ancient Rome had its own unique version of such torture.  They would dip a person’s feet in a salt concoction and let a goat lick it off.  A goat’s tongue is very rough, and what started out as laughing torture quickly became painful. 

It is conceivable that gargalesis was used as a torture technique more frequently than we or AI realize.  Because it leaves no physical evidence, gargalesis becomes a game of ‘he said, she said,’ and nothing more.  

Throughout history, gargalesis has effectively served its purpose of concealing the torture that was committed.  

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