Why do you do the things you do? Not you, specifically — the answer to that question is likely “some combination of extreme procrastination and mild psychosis” — but human beings in general. Why do we share so many strange little tics, and where did they come from? What purpose do they serve? Turns out we can answer some of those questions …
#6. Sticking Out Your Tongue When You Concentrate Is A Remnant From The First Language
Picture yourself concentrating really hard: A grim set to your jaw, eyes narrowed, sweat beading on your forehead, the tip of your tongue sticking out all cute and stupid, undoing all that serious jaw-setting stuff … What’s up with that?
“Mom’s signature isn’t going to fake itself onto this report card.”
Well, according to the gestural protolanguage theory, the tongue thing is a behavioral remnant from when humans first developed language. Going from frantic grunting to quoting Shakespeare would have been a rather large leap for our club-bearing ancestors to make. As such, the earliest languages basically consisted of playing charades — that is, mimicking common acts such as hunting, eating, or bashing skulls in with your club when Tok Tok doesn’t get that hand-to-mouth means “eating.” Jesus Christ, Tok Tok, get your shit together.
Gradually, the accompanying grunts evolved into spoken language, but the wiring for gestural language remained deep within our brain stuffs. And it could also explain why kids, and even the occasional awkward adult, stick out their tongues when performing manual tasks.
“If I ever meet the guy who invented safety scissors, we’re going to learn exactly how hard it is to stab someone with these.”
Researchers tested this hypothesis by observing children performing various high-concentration tasks. The tongue-wagging got progressively more prevalent as the tasks became tougher, which suggests some sort of feedback loop between our brains and appendages, which in turn may go a long way toward explaining why you perform intricate hand-talk ballets even when you’re on the phone.
Furthermore, the study revealed that kids tend to jab their tongues to the right, indicating that the action is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain — the same part that handles the bulk of language processing. So if you’re one of the few who’ve retained this habit into adulthood, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you are not, in fact, a drooling idiot. You’re simply healthily in touch with your inner caveman.
#5. Sighing Prevents Suffocation
You may not be able to do anything about that impossible deadline your boss assigned you or that cute girl in algebra class who will never acknowledge your existence, but you can sigh heavily about both. Which is as good as doing nothing, but more passive-aggressively dramatic. And yet, according to science, all that sighing serves a secondary, arguably more important function: making sure you don’t slowly suffocate to death.
Or possibly to calm you, stopping you from slowly suffocating them to death.
Your lungs contain scads of tiny air sacs called alveoli, which exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, allowing you to continue doing your two favorite things: living and breathing. Thing is, they also tend to collapse over time. Luckily, we also have a built-in mechanism for preventing that: taking an extra-large gulp of air, also known as a sigh. This simple act pops those little bastards right back open and keeps you living, no matter how badly you wish you could die already.
Like hundreds of microscopic versions of the syringe scene from Pulp Fiction.
That’s also why sighing is associated with stress — popping the alveoli back into fighting shape is accompanied by a feeling of relief, acting as a sort of “reset button” for both our mood and our respiratory function. We do it far more than we realize — about every five minutes, on average. Hell, just reading this probably has you sighing constantly, a bit like contagious yawning. Hopefully, only half of those are in frustration at our terrible jokes.
#4. You Talk Like That Because Of The Environment
Why does Spanish sound so sexy, while Swedish is fodder for Muppet mockery? The “acoustic adaptation” theory posits that a region’s climate has a direct and profound effect on the languages that develop in that area. In essence, the evolution of a place’s lingo is influenced by the landscape, temperatures, and even rainfall of the locale, all of which are factors determining which sounds will be used frequently and which won’t. The reason is simple physics: Sound waves don’t behave the same in the woods as they do in open fields, and they behave differently yet in snowy mountains.
It’s why they yodel up here instead of doing the Tarzan scream.
For instance, consonants are easily distorted or lost altogether in a rainforest, making them the weakest link in a language evolving in such an environment. By the time you’ve figured out what “etch ou fo tha agua” means, you’ve been eaten by a jaguar. Conversely, the consonant-heavy Germanic languages, such as English, could develop quite nicely in the hills of Europe, where the acoustics are perfect for warning people about marauding Visigoths, who ironically are not easily visible.
The German word for that has three Ws, five Ts, and a Z.
Moreover, the climate may not only determine which types of sounds appear frequently in a language, but also the way those sounds are combined to form words. Tropical habitats are likely to produce languages with lots of open syllables — think “aloha.” Meanwhile, consonants at the ends of syllables don’t perform as well in the heat, but have much better job prospects in colder venues with names like Deutschland. This phenomenon is even observable in birds: Species native to rainforests tend to use fewer consonant-like sounds, and vice versa. Of course, birds only ever really announce that they wanna bone a lot and right now, so their regional constraints are a bit more forgiving.