You’ll freeze your tongue off kid

Published 2:33 pm Saturday, December 6, 2008

Several years ago, there was a popular television show called “Titus,” a dark comedy that lasted a couple of seasons. During the program’s run, I was the associate editor of a weekly paper in Oregon and had the opportunity to interview one of the actors, Zack Ward. Ward was in the area for two weeks helping a friend start a shopper publication, while at the same time promoting his show.

While researching his biography, I was surprised to learn that the now grown Ward had also played the bully Scut Farkus in the 1983 holiday classic, “A Christmas Story,” a film that seems to have reached the same greatness status as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Christmas Vacation.”

While Ward had some memorable scenes in “A Christmas Story,” one of my favorite moments involved poor old “Flick,” who was triple dog dared to stick his tongue to a flagpole.

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This got me thinking. The possibility of sticking one’s tongue to a flagpole is always talked about, especially this time of year, but how often does it really happen?

Well, I called the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to find out.

Luckily, Dr. Wyatt Decker, from the Department of Emergency Medicine, took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss this important issue.

“No, I have never seen anyone who has done this,” he said. “But I’ve heard of it. The thought is the saliva on your tongue is mostly water, and if it gets stuck on something that’s cold, it freezes.”

Decker went on to say that while he cannot prove it, lore says that the solution to the problem is to pour warm water over the tongue and the portion of the pole the tongue is stuck on. In order for that to be possible, of course, one would have to be awfully close to a water source.

“Someone better run in the house and get warm water or your tongue will get frozen,” he said.

If that happens, Decker said the possibilities are threefold.

The first option is the person gets lucky, pulls the tongue away quickly and experiences a sore tongue for awhile and some embarrassment.

“You could see two other possibilities,” Decker said. “One is trauma to your tongue, and it would be difficult to eat and drink. The other possibility is you stand there, and you are waiting for someone to get warm water, and you could get frost bite to your tongue. Frost bite is frozen tissue, so you could lose the surface area of your tongue.”

Decker said it’s very unlikely the entire tongue would fall off, but more likely the inner part of the tongue would stay intact and the outer surface would die and probably recover.

“It would be an unusually severe incident that you would have permanent tongue damage, but it could happen,” he said.

After talking with Decker, I have come to two conclusions.

Number one, if people are sticking their tongue to poles, they aren’t doing it enough to bring it to the attention of the emergency department at the Mayo Clinic.

And number two, it’s best to keep your tongue far away from flagpoles and have a snowball fight or go sledding instead.