I taste bile! (Pet Peeve #1)

One of my biggest pet peeves as a reader is seeing a line where a character at some point "tastes bile." because he or she is confronted with something that grosses them out, or is so grotesque they are nauseated by the idea or sight.  It's often the ultimate expression of supreme disgust, only to be one-upped by actual vomiting.

Reading this description repeatedly for one or more characters throughout a book is what really bothers me. It's not normal to constantly be tasting one's bile.

Here's why:

Bile is an emulsifier. It is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the upper section of your small intestine (called the duodenum) to break down fats into smaller fats. It is extremely bitter tasting and the vapours from excessive bile secretion can travel to the mouth for you to taste. In order for it to do so, it has to travel through TWO sphincter muscles (the pyloric and the cardiac), which act as one-way gates, the highly acidic (and therefore destructive) stomach, and the esophagus.

What causes excessive bile secretion? Not disgust! Bile is generally tasted in the mouth if the liver is sluggish or stagnant from excessive consumption of toxins, fatty food or alcohol.

So if you're reading about a heroine constantly tasting her own bile, the booze-hag might have to lay off the full fat lattes and street drugs.

There are exceptions, of course--unfortunate people who suffer from conditions such as duodenogastric reflux (bile reflux), dysgeusia, laryngopharyngeal reflux and liver disorders (to name a few).

Now one could argue that if you recently ate fatty food, bile vapours could be in your stomach, and then if you were disgusted with something to the point of vomiting, you could very well taste bile. And that exact exaggeration is what makes the cliched expression "she/he could taste bile" so effective. We associate the taste of bile as the precursor to vomiting. I've even caught myself typing out the description on more than one occasion.

But when we vomit, or almost vomit, it isn't only bile we taste, and it often doesn't involve bile at all. So what exactly are we tasting?

It's stomach acid (Gastric acid is a heady mix of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride), digestive enzymes (mainly pepsin and its inactive form pepsinogen), mucus (which forms a protective lining in your stomach), our stomach contents (whatever you last ate - partially digested) and yes, potentially bile vapour.

Do you have a pet peeve as a reader? Do tell!
Have you read or written a really funny or accurate description of disgust? Please share!


  1. Must admit we've used the bile line, JC. Sorry. *hee hee* But, yes it is a rather odd thing now that you've pointed the facts of it out. Mathair and I aren't too keen on using the "brooding" line, but my real pet peeve is when a character dances into a room. I understand that the author wants them described as graceful or lithe, but all I can see is someone sashaying or better yet, doing the Macarena. LOL. Great post.

    1. Too funny! I think I've used the brooding line, but I agree with you wholeheartedly, about dancing into a room. Mainly because it's something i would never be capable of doing without falling all over myself. Not if I read the line, I'm going to start giggling and envision them doing the Macarena! LOL!

    2. Hmm I'm going to stop using my Ipad for replying. Just read all those typos! Oops!


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