Fundamentally, a kiss is just a kiss. Or maybe a lip lock, a peck, a smooch, a smack, a snog if you're British, osculation if you're technical.
On another level, though — often enhanced by moonlight and love songs — a kiss tells of sentimental significance, amorous anticipation and sometimes the garlic fettuccine from that romantic Italian restaurant.
Yet what do we really know about kissing? Does the setting seal the deal? Is kissing different in different cultures? Can teenagers with braces really lock faces? And what about the Hershey's kiss? The Eskimo kiss? How did the band KISS get its name? So in the loving spirit of Valentine season, we passionately present almost everything you ever wanted to know about kissing, but were perhaps too busy kissing to ask:LAY ONE ON ME
The word “kiss” comes from the Old English “cyssan” — kissing etymological cousins to the German “kussen” and the Old Norse “kyss.” It can signify love and passion, but also affection, good luck, respect, friendship, peace and devotion.
As far as romantic kisses go, the location where the smooch takes place can make or break a moment. Good places to kiss might include the city of Kissing in Germany; Kissimmee, Fla.; Intercourse, Pa.; Romance, Ark.; Fidelity, Mo. Or even Lake Merritt in Oakland, especially if it occurs during a picturesque gondola ride.
Angelino Sandri and April Quinn, husband-and-wife owners of Gondola Servizio, have witnessed thousands upon thousands of kisses between couples on first dates, anniversaries, during proposals and weddings. “Oh yes, we see a lot of kissing,” Quinn says. “A lot.”
And they've done their own share, too. In fact, the couple's first kiss was on a gondola ride down in Long Beach. “Angelino was my gondolier,” Quinn explains. “As we cruised along, he told me it's traditional to kiss when going under a bridge. So we did.”
The thought occurred to her that such a line might have been used before, but it worked.
“That kiss sealed the deal,” she says. “We've been married 16 years.”LOVE LOCKED
A kiss can truly bring lovers together, and in some cases it can keep them from parting — at least in the only documented case of impassioned teenagers who got their braces locked in, well, embrace. It happened back in 1977 in Ann Arbor, Mich., says Pam Paladin at the St. Louis-based American Association of Orthodontists. Thanks to the old-style braces, with U-shaped wires jutting out around their mouths, the two 15-year-olds “hooked up,” so to speak, and ended up in the office of Dr. Lee Graber. In a 2008 Chicago Tribune article, Graber described the couple as scuttling along like “an adolescent Siamese crab.”
At least the teens' connectivity ended fairly quickly. According to the Guinness World Records, the longest kiss occurred just last year on Valentine's Day in Thailand, lasting 58 hours, 35 minutes and 58 seconds. And there are more kissing records: The “most expensive kiss sold at auction” was in 2003, when someone paid $50,000 for a kiss with Sharon Stone. And the “most cobras kissed consecutively” — yes, the poisonous snakes — is 19. Again in Thailand, this feat was accomplished in 2006 by snake charmer Khum Chaibuddee. There's even a YouTube video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBb5MQjwr3M) where he's seen kissing the snakes on the head. No tongue, in case you were wonderingIT'S ONLY NATURAL
While those uppity cobras didn't return the love, some social creatures in the animal kingdom really do seem to kiss. Bonobos, a type of chimpanzee, have been known to smooch for up to 12 minutes straight. Giraffes entwine their necks, and even fish seem to touch lips.
For humans, the earliest record of kissing dates back 3,500 years to India's Vedic Sanskrit texts. And anthropologists think that — as time has gone by — the act might have evolved out of a sniff greeting, says Sheril Kirshenbaum of Monterey, author of “The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us.”
“Our nose seems to play a role in kissing, providing clues to long-term compatibility with a partner,” she says. “Kissing is different for men and women. It's enjoyable for both, of course. But men seem to think of it more as a means to an end. For women, it's more big-picture significance.”
And the rules of kissing vary by culture. In some countries it's illegal to kiss in public. Social kissing for friendship or greeting is far more prevalent in Europe than in the United States. Oh, and Eskimos don't actually rub noses to kiss, but Canadian Inuits, as well as New Zealand's Maori people, have been known to sniff a loved one's face hard enough to suction the skin between their nose and upper lip.
Kissing — especially a first kiss — is said to provide some of our strongest memories, Kirshenbaum says. People often remember what they were wearing, exactly where they were. Oddly, Kirshenbaum can't come up with any special kisses in her own experience, but instantly recalled a favorite screen version. “I like the kiss in 'The Lady and the Tramp,' ” she says.SIMPLY CINEMATIC
Long before that, the first movie kiss was in 1896, in a 47-second film produced by Thomas Edison called, not surprisingly, “The Kiss.” Since then, classic film and TV kisses have included everything from Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind” (rumor is Gable had bad breath and it took considerable acting by Leigh to make the moment look good) to Madonna and Britney on MTV in 2003 and Kirk and Uhura on “Star Trek” in 1968 — a shocking-at-the-time interracial kiss, but they were forced by evil aliens, so that made it OK.
Kissing has been immortalized in songs galore, from the likes of Duke Ellington to Eminem. The rock band KISS got it's name in 1973 — not really anything to do with kissing, nor with “Knights In Satan's Service,” as was once rumored, but actually something about then-band-member Peter Criss who was previously in a group called Lips.SWEET SMOOCHES
Hershey's Kisses have been around since 1907, but 15-year-old Zoe Rauscher of Hershey, Pa., (http://lauracarey.com/kisses) has only been collecting them since she was 6. “And considering Hershey's hasn't released a new kiss in nearly three years, with their introduction of Air Delights, the collection hasn't expanded much,” she says. She has preserved 57 of the tiny candies, displayed in a wooden box with little cubby holes that her granddad made for her. “Before that, I had only kept the collection in a little cardboard J.C. Penney box,” she says. “But in the summer, they all started to melt to the box and to each other.”
Kissing can definitely heat things up, which helps if you've been eating a lot of chocolate. Passionate kissing is said to burn about 70 to 90 calories a minute. A Hershey's kiss contains about 22 calories, so you can have four, and then work them off.
And be advised, though some say International Kissing Day was Feb. 5, and others have it as July 6, the big V-Day is just around the corner. Let the osculation commence.