Leading Article: Age of the mwaaah

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The Independent Online
TODAY'S Sunday Review contains several learned pieces on the act of kissing and its place in the history of photography, the cinema, pictorial art and popular music. These pieces are all very interesting and all very appropriate to St Valentine's Day, but they miss, in their concentration on the romantic and sexual purpose of the kiss, one of the foulest plagues affecting life in Britain as we know it. This is the social kiss. Mwaaah] there it goes on one cheek, and - watch out - mwaaah] here it comes again on the other. What are people saying when they do this? Are they exclaiming, for example: 'But Julia, we thought you were dead]'; or 'Thank God, Herbert, that you have returned safely from the South Pole'? No, they are simply murmuring: 'Lovely supper'; or 'See you on the school run, Monday'. Increasingly, in fact, they are saying nothing comprehensible at all, just mwaaah] as onomatopoeia, as though the sound of the kiss itself had to be enhanced with Dolby stereo.

Commentators have interpreted mwaaah- ing as irony. The British, suspecting social kissing is a faintly ridiculous Mediterranean import, try to get away with it by hamming it up. This is subtle but unconvincing. A more likely explanation is that the sound is a substitute for substantial physical contact; the louder the mwaaah, the fainter the touch of lips. It is a good rule of thumb that those who make the loudest noise are the most insincere. Mwaaah] in these circumstances can mean: 'But Julia, we wished you were dead'; or 'That was the rottenest meal we ever ate'. It is time we returned to the firm handshake and looked each other steadily in the eye.

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