So, one million moms are up in arms over "Schweddy Balls," the, uh, gutsy, name of Ben and Jerry's newest flavor: rum-flavored vanilla ice cream adorned with fudge-covered malt balls.

One would think such an unsavory name for something that should appeal to taste not mortify it would negate the need for a boycott.

But the controversy provides an excellent opportunity to think biblically about scatological humor, which in its narrowest sense, centers on bodily excretions of any kind, or more generally, refers to any obscene humor. When it comes to humor of any sort, it's sometimes hard to tell when the realm of manners crosses into that of morals. For manners and morals are not the same thing, and the lines connecting the twain don't always meet.

I would argue, however, that the name of the latest Ben and Jerry's flavor might be an offense against manners, but it's not immoral. I'd say it's just a rather puerile example in a long tradition scatological humor:

  • Aristophanes' prize-winning play, Peace, from the fourth century B. C., includes an insult of a scatological nature to Zeus.
  • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, one of the greatest literary works of the Middle Ages, has two stories that conclude on punch lines involving flatulence.
  • Within the eighth circle of hell in Dante's Inferno, where the flatterers are found, is a pit lined with stinking excrement.
  • An entire body of scholarship exists around the scatology in Shakespeare's works.
  • Perhaps the most scatological writer of all time is the conservative eighteenth century Anglican priest, Jonathan Swift. Within the body of his works is a group referred to by scholars as the "scatological poems." Those familiar only with the children's versions of his best known work, Gulliver's Travels, would likely be shocked to learn exactly how Gulliver puts out the fire in the queen's palace as well as the details about the Liiliputians' efforts to rid their land of the giant visitor's, um, leavings.
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