“Whoever smelt it, dealt it”

Informant Data: My informant is an International Relations and Global Business major here at the University of Southern California. She is a first generation Filipina and is fluent in Tagalog.  She grew up in Oakland, California before coming down here for her undergraduate degree. She is very bubbly and loves to use proverbial phrases in everyday life.

Item: The proverb: “Whoever smelt it, dealt it.” The following quotations are direct transcriptions of my dialogue with the informant, while the additional information provided is paraphrased.

Contextual Data: My informant cannot remember exactly when she was introduced to this proverb, but remembers it significant popularity in her elementary school. She described for me the usual scenario for the proverb: “Usually someone farts. Then, someone will remark along the lines of “Ew, someone farted!” and the proper response if you are in the vicinity is to say “Whoever smelt it, dealt it.” She goes on to express that the structure of the proverb, the rhyming and “quip-y” and accusatory nature of it makes it difficult to refrain from use. “It became almost like a “call and response” game, where if someone accused someone of farting, you couldn’t help but compulsively say “Whoever smelt it, dealt it.” I still struggle to keep myself from saying it nowadays.” The general idea behind it, which can be applied to more than just flatulence, is that a person commits a social faux pas, and attempts to evade blame by drawing attention to it. My informant tells me that “among my friends, I like to use the proverb to apply to other typically shameful acts, as a joke.” She gave me the following examples:

“At a party, my friend comes from the bathroom and says someone completely ruined the plumbing, and advises me not to go in there. My witty response might be “Yeah? Well you know what they say, whoever smelt it, dealt it.” In this case, both participants must be aware of the reputation of the proverb for it to make sense, for it is not the literally “smelling” and “dealing” this time, it is the implied act of covering up an occurrence by drawing attention to it.

But my informant says this is not limited to occasions involving bodily excrement. “Say my roommate finds the dishwasher broken, and sounds super accusatory and shocked by this. “Whoever smelt it, dealt it” can be applied here as well, as if saying “your reaction seems unfit, like you are covering up something.” This scenario also necessitates that both people involved understand the implications behind the proverb, and is almost stretching the proverb beyond its normative domain.