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Kent Bernhardt: To perspire – or sweat? That is the question

My two favorite seasons of the year are spring and fall – in that order.

North Carolina springs are usually pleasant; the perfect mixture of remnants of a dying winter and an approaching summer. I could do without the pollen though.

Autumn brings the return of cool, crisp evenings and moderate daytime temperatures. Huge air conditioning bills and summer reruns begin to fade away. In fact, if it weren’t for earlier sunsets and elections, fall would be nearly perfect.

I used to prefer winter weather over summer, but the older my joints got, the more my preferences tended to shift. Winters are starting to leave me feeling like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz – screaming for my oil can.

But summer is now within sight, so we need to confront the lingering question: Here in the south, do we perspire, or do we sweat? We’re preparing for another season of one or the other, if not both.

Webster isn’t much help. The word “perspire” means “to emit matter through the skin, specifically perspiration.” I’m glad Webster got specific about what kind of matter we emit when we perspire. We apparently perspire perspiration. Got it.

For information on the word “sweat,” I consulted one of those online medical sites. You know, they’re the sites people visit so they’ll know what fatal disease they have before they visit a doctor so they can tell the doctor all about it.

The website even featured a helpful video about sweating. Imagine being the producer of such a video.

You’ll be glad to know we’re born with about two to four million sweat glands, which seems like a vague guess to me.

Men, our sweat glands are usually more active than a woman’s, though I’ve seen some pretty sweaty women in my day.

And yes, our sweat glands become more active right around the time we reach puberty. I personally needed a stepladder to reach puberty.

Sweating is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. That’s the part of your nervous system that is not under your control. In fact, I’m not sure who is controlling the joystick on mine. I sweat for many reasons, especially during the tax season.

Most importantly, sweating is the body’s natural way of regulating temperature. That’s a nice way of saying if you didn’t sweat, you’d explode while mowing the yard.

Finally, we learn that four basic things cause us to sweat: (1) Hot weather; (2) Situations that make us nervous, angry, embarrassed, or afraid; (3) Exercise; and (4) Watching attractive women exercise.

Unfortunately, this website offers no insight into the difference between perspiring and sweating. We’re left to continue the debate.

But I think there is a difference.

When Richard Nixon debated John F. Kennedy on live TV in 1960, viewers could clearly see moisture on Nixon’s washed-out face. Kennedy appeared tan and cool as a cucumber.

Did Nixon perspire, or did he sweat? He said he perspired a little because he had recently been in the hospital. I think the voters saw it as sweat, and they say to this day that’s part of the reason Kennedy scored the ultimate Presidential victory.

In conclusion, there’s only one rule in the sweat-perspire debate. When a woman tells you she doesn’t sweat – she perspires, do not argue with her. She can quickly cause your pores to emit another material.

It’s called blood.


Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.


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