Washing Out Mouth With Soap - History and Procedure

History and Procedure

A friend of mine was horrified one day by hearing her little boy make use of a very bad word Turning to the maid she said, "Jane, you may take Master Dick up stairs and wash his mouth out with soap and water. It is too soiled for him to sit at the table with us..."

—Good Housekeeping, 1889

One of the earliest recorded uses of forcing another to ingest soap as punishment appeared in the 1832 Legal Examiner, in which it was noted that a married couple "were constantly quarrelling ; and that one evening, on the man's return home, he found his wife intoxicated, perceiving a piece of kitchen soap lying on the ground near the spot, he crammed it into his wife's mouth, saying, "She has had plenty of water to wash with, she ought now to have a little soap".

In the 1860s, the periodical Aunt Judy's Annual Volume featured the main characters forced to eat a bar of soap as punishment for constantly failing to wash up, as the climax to a story entitled "Scaramouches at School".

In 1872, The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal stated that the practise of washing out the mouth of a child heard to swear was noted by an American colleague, and should be recommended to colleagues in the Orient as well.

In 1873, a schoolmistress in Mahaska, Iowa was noted to have punished a boy in her class for indulging in chewing tobacco by washing his mouth out with soap. Much later examples tell how Filipino or Lakota aboriginals were punished for speaking their native language with a similar punishment.

An 1898 "study in moral education", published by the Journal of Genetic Psychology, noted that whipping, withdrawal of privileges, lectures, being sent alone to a room and washing out a subject's mouth with either soap, salt or pepper, were the most likely punishments to deter future abuses. Two years later, a New York State Department of Social Welfare officer submit a complaint against the Rochester Orphan Asylum noting that "I find, as charged, that children's mouths have been washed with soap-suds, but not, as also charged, with ashes and water; that such punishments were ordered for obscene or profane language". By the start of the 20th century, the practice was also noted at the Maryland State Reformatory for Women as punishment for any infraction of the rules.

In the 1950s, several American schoolboards ruled in favour of washing out a pupil's mouth with soap as a legitimate punishment.

In 1953, Wisconsin judge Harvey L. Neelan fined a Miss Mertz $25 for her drunken obscenities and noted that she should be required to wash her mouth with soap. In 1963, Michigan judge Francis Castellucci ordered Louis Winiarski, who had been found using obscene language around women and children, to wash his mouth with soap before leaving the courtroom. A similar case in October 1979 saw a New York resident choose to wash his mouth out with soap, rather than serve ten days in prison for his disorderly conduct and obscenities.

In 1977, the National Criminal Justice Reference System published a report defending the use of corporal punishment in schools, in which a school administrator noted that he documented 200 cases, over his 13 year career, of using corporal punishmenting, noting "That's not just using paddles in every instance, but if you shake a student, if you grab a student, if you wash a student's mouth out with soap, that's corporal punishment under the definition of the law".

In 1982, the Journal of Youth and Adolescence listed the practise, alongside paddling and hairpulling as a "moderate" punishment for children, beneath the realm of "severe" punishment such as whipping. Similarly in 1996, the American Academy of Pediatrics classified it as an alternative to spanking.

In 2006, students at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts carried out a peer-reviewed study on the ability of punishment to curb the use of profanity by interviewing colleagues on their remembered upbringings, and noted that the most commonly reported parental reaction was a verbal reprimand (41%). Soap in the mouth was mentioned in 20% of the episodes, and physical punishments were described in 14%.

The essence of washing out mouth with soap is to place soap, or a similar cleansing agent, inside a person's mouth so that the person will taste it, inducing what most people consider an unpleasant experience. One of the most common methods uses a bar of soap which is placed in a person's mouth; often the person is then forced to hold it for a period of time and/or swallow it.

Liquid soap, dishwashing liquid, or certain other liquid or solid cleansers may be used; in the case of liquids the person may be forced to swallow or to swish the liquid in his or her mouth for a period of time. The used product may also be brushed onto a person's teeth and/or oral soft tissues using a toothbrush.

This punishment still has advocates today, even though its use has diminished considerably in recent years in favour of discipline methods that are not considered violent or humiliating. Additionally, soaps and detergents can have potentially harmful results, especially if swallowed, including vomiting, diarrhea, irritation of the lining of the mouth and digestive tract, and in rare instances, pulmonary aspiration.

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