Picking and Flicking

The not-so-rare habit we all engage in but would never admit in public

"Brooke! Stop that!" My hand shot back to my side…but…oh no…not quite completing the task on which my pointer finger was so vehemently focused, I could feel the crusty flake barely clinging to the inside of my right nostril. It tickled in the most annoying of ways, practically screaming to me that it was still there. I shook my head violently from side to side. Nothing. I opened my mouth, sucked in as much air as I could, and forced the air out of my nose in short, hard spurts. Still nothing. The tickling continued, working its way into my brain as an itch that could only be taken care of in one way. I knew what I had to do.

I glanced left and right to check that the coast was clear, taking an extra second to make sure my mom was focused on her telephone conversation. I turned my back, hunched my shoulders slightly, and poked my fingernail into the appropriate nostril wall. Nail outward and first knuckle bent at a 90-degree angle, I maneuvered my finger around and down until it reached the edge of the booger. One last glance at mom and then I was committed. I slid my nail under the flake's edge like a pro, and flicked outward. Immediately, a wave of satisfaction overcame me, revealed to the world only by my mischievous three-year-old smile. I had once again gotten away with picking my nose.

As a child, I struggled with the constant urge to pick my nose. Try as my parents may to break me of my publicly frowned upon and arguably disgusting habit, I simply could not resist the urge to purge my nostrils of anything gooky, flaky, crusty, or squishy. I also could not believe that I was the only person in the world in whose nose one would find such grotesque materials, or alternatively, the only person in the world whom it bothered. But during that time of scolding and hand-swattings, I certainly felt like I was. Only later in life did I find out the truth: According to the infamous Dr. Oz, the average person picks his nose five times an hour. Assuming that somebody is awake for 15 hours during the day, that's 75 times we pick our noses each day! There's even a medical term for the habit of picking one's nose: rhinotillexomania, from the roots "rhino" meaning nose, "tillexis" meaning "habit of picking," and "mania" meaning "excessive enthusiasm." And yet, picking one's nose in public is one of worst things a person can do on the scale of "things a person is not supposed to do in public." It's even worse than farting because at least there is some element of uncontrollability when a person passes gas.

While I am generally all for defying cultural norms and being true to ourselves and our habits, society may actually be onto something with this one. It is a fact that snot and boogers are breeding grounds for germs. Dr. Oz referred to our wet and sticky nostrils as a petri dish for potential viruses, should they somehow make it into our noses. So the problem really is not so much exporting our own germs into the surrounding environment, but inserting germs from the outside environment into a part of our bodies where they will likely grow.

On the other hand, recent research has been conducted investigating the potential health benefits of picking one's nose. Canadian Professor Scott Napper believes that by consuming mucous in the nose, the body is introduced to a harmless sample of germs, which ultimately boosts the immune system. He derives his idea from previous theories indicating that the apparent increase in allergies and autoimmune diseases can be traced to improved hygiene. By eating our boogers, our bodies are potentially exposed to certain bugs, and our immune system learns permanently how to fight off those bugs should they ever cross our paths in more dangerous numbers in the future.


It's true—some of us cannot help but judge that person in the corner who sneaks a quick pick when he thinks nobody is watching. It is the reaction we have been brought up to have. However, the next time you find yourself witnessing such a scene, I implore you to think back to the last time you yourself engaged in the same, satisfying action. My guess is that it wasn't longer than 20 minutes ago.

And if you are a self-admitting nose-picker, don't fret. Nose-picking is a habit enjoyed by people of all ages, genders, personalities, and social classes—even Her Highness Queen Elizabeth II was caught picking her nose on camera in 1996! There are just a few important things you should keep in mind: First, keep your hands habitually clean so that you can pick all day, free of worry about germs or viruses. Second, consider making your potentially annoying habit useful by eating your pickings, and thereby readying your immune system to take on whatever illnesses are thrown at it this semester. Finally, always remember that you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose.

Brooke H. Kantor ’15 is a Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator in Dunster House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.


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