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Can a corpse burp?

CAN A CORPSE BURP?

Asked by Gail Akami of Birmingham, United Kingdom

No, if one means "burp" in the usual sense of the belch of a living human.

"Corpse burping" confusion may come from one of two sources. First, in 1998, much attention was paid to the case of a supposed "burping corpse". According to the report, particularly popular in the US tabloid press at the time, allegedly the embalming of a Los Angeles man named Henry Galestor was postponed due to the mortician's observation that the dead man's stomach "was convulsing every six or seven minutes".

He supposedly described the convulsing as "burping". This observation was confirmed by a forensic scientist who supposedly wished to study the corpse. The story rather quickly achieved the status of urban legend.

Second, those familiar with what happens when the human body dies are well aware of the fact that a decomposing body will undergo a liquefaction process as tissue breaks down by a combination of bacteria and enzyme action. These liquefied substances of a decaying body can be highly volatile. They can create gases. Under the right circumstances, these gases can cause a small explosion.

Knowing this, the funeral industry uses seals of the casket designed to give way somewhat before enough pressure builds inside a casket to cause an explosion. In the funeral industry, this action of the seals giving way is sometimes euphemistically called "burping". No, a corpse does not "burp" - or say "excuse me" afterwards.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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