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Howling Fantods Or Howling Skitters?

I love it when writers make up funny crap—especially when they create strange words.

Twice during this 101 Books journey, I’ve encountered the term “howling” used in a humorous way.

The first time was during David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. When a character had the “howling fantods,” they had the “creeps.” You might call it the “willies” or the “heebie jeebies.”

Here’s an example of the howling fantods in context from the novel:

“Orin’s special conscious horror, besides heights and the early morning, is roaches. There’d been parts of metro Boston near the Bay he’d refused to go to, as a child. Roaches give him the howling fantods.”

Then, as I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath, I yet again encountered this word. This time, the “howling skitters” refer to someone who has diarheaa and seriously bad stomach issues.

Here’s an example of the howling skitters in context:

“Now you tell what you’re telling’,” Jessie said. “This here unit’s suffered a shame ’bout that toilet paper.”

“All week, Mis’ Bullitt. We could’ he’p it. You know I got five girls.”

“What they been a-doin with it?” Jessie demanded ominously.

“Jes’ usin’ it. Hones’, jes’ usin’ it.”

“They ain’t got the right! Four-five sheets is enough. What’s the matter’th ’em?”

The confessor bleated, “Skitters. All five of ’em. We been low on money. They et green grapes. They all five got the howlin’ skitters. Run out ever’ ten minutes.” She defended them, “But they ain’t stealin’ it.”

Maybe I’m just drawn to potty humor, but I find Steinbeck’s use of the “howling skitters,” in an otherwise serious novel, unbelievably hilarious.

Though I can’t seem to find the source anywhere, I recently remember reading somewhere that DFW’s use of the “howling fantods” was actually inspired by the “howling skitters” in The Grapes of Wrath. Another example, like yesterday’s post, of art inspiring art.

Now that you understand what both of these terms mean, let me present the question of the day: Would you rather have the howling fantods or the howling skitters?

Because I’m such a gentleman, I’ll answer first.

After much thought, I would rather suffer from the howling fantods. The reason being that, in my case, when needles and broken bones and televised operations give me the howling fantods, I can remove myself from that situation.

But, the howling skitters? Oh man. There’s no escape from that. When you have the skitters, you’re basically confined to one room. A bathroom and a hearty supply of toilet paper, as evidenced in the above excerpt, must be nearby.

The positive side of the howling skitters? They’re only temporary, unlike the fears and psychosis that prompt the howling fantods, which can last a lifetime. That said, the disgusting, vile, painful nature of the howling skitters, even though only for a day or two, make me choose the fantods.

I’ll take the howling fantods all day long. What about you?

Serious literature discussion here at 101 Books today, folks. Serious literature discussion.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brandon #

    Skitters ain’t nothin’ a good shower cain’t fix.


    August 17, 2012
  2. Matt #

    What if the skitters give you the fantods? There’s a dilemma.


    August 17, 2012
    • Indeed. That would be the howling cycle of death.


      August 17, 2012
  3. I don’t know, that’s a tough one. The skitters are bad but temporary. It’s possible I’ve never had the howling skitters, though, because I’ve never suffered for the whole day, so perhaps that’s why it’s not automatically the answer. It depends on context, too. If I’m home on a day off, then it’s not so bad. If I’m in the middle of teaching a class or hiking or on the highway passing a sign that says “Next exit 35 miles”…yeah, that’s going to be bad.

    The howling fantods are temporary, too, but they linger. When I saw a roach – sorry, “Palmetto bug” – when I lived in Florida, I’d damn near have a heart attack until it was finally dead, but the skeeve lasted for the rest of the night, and sometimes into the next day if it was a hard kill. A piece of hair brushes against my arm? Howling fantods all over again. Because those bastards can fly. Did you know they fly? They fly. Oh god, they fly. I’m a thousand miles from one and haven’t seen one in about 10 years, but even the thought of them flying can give bring on the fantods.

    So, that’s my long way of saying that I choose “Neither!” 😉


    August 17, 2012
    • Flying roaches are certainly worthy of the fantods. I’m glad to see you’ve thought about the seriousness of this issue as well. I was thinking I might be the only one!


      August 17, 2012
  4. Rats, now I have to re read the Grapes of Wrath. It was over 25 years ago and when I finished I thought to my young self – never again. Never say never.


    August 17, 2012
  5. Hahaha! I had forgotten about the howling skitters! I call them the screaming meanies, and I’ll take the fantods any day, too.


    August 17, 2012
  6. Carey #

    As someone who has Crohn’s disease and suffers from the howling skitters on more days than not, I must say I would take the howling fantods! After all, the fantods are all in one’s head anyway. Another great post…heehee! 😉


    August 18, 2012
  7. Nel #

    Roaches give me the howlin’ fantods too. Nasty little critters.


    August 19, 2012
  8. It’s within your own power to eliminate, or at least decrease the fantods to a tolerable level – so i’d choose them over the wrath of m other nature!


    August 20, 2012

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  1. Book #46: The Grapes Of Wrath | 101 Books
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