For other uses, see Kiss (disambiguation).
The Kiss by
The Kiss by Francesco Hayez

A kiss (from Old English cyssan "to kiss", in turn from coss "a kiss", perhaps onomatopoeic) is the touching of the lips to some other thing; usually another person. In modern Western culture, it is most commonly an expression of affection. Between people of close acquaintance kissing is done as a greeting or a good-bye, kissing each other on the cheek (or near the cheek, in the air, while cheeks are touching). Relatives may kiss younger children to comfort them or show affection, and vice versa. As an expression of romantic affection or sexual desire it involves two people kissing one another on the lips, and may also involve one person kissing another on various parts of their body.

Kissing is a learned behaviour, related to the grooming behaviour seen between other animals. Many non-human primates also exhibit kissing behaviour. Most human cultures have some form of kissing, but there are a handful of Central African tribes who find it repugnant.

Kissing may also be used to signify reverence and subordination, as in kissing the ring of a king or pope. A kiss can also be rude or done for the sake of irritating or proving one's superiority. A rude kiss or a kiss with a smack is referred to as a buss.

When not an expression of affection, a kiss is a largely symbolic gesture in that the purpose of the kiss is to convey a meaning, such as salutations or subordination, rather than to experience the physical sensations associated with kissing. Kisses on the cheek as salutations are traditional in many parts of continental Europe, and the number of kisses, alternating cheeks, depends on which region one comes from. A kiss can be "blown" using actions of the hand and the mouth. This is used to convey affection usually while parting, when the partners are physically distant but can view each other. Blown kisses are also used when a popular person wishes to convey affection to a large crowd or audience.

Missing image
Man kissing boy
Miyagawa Issh, ca. 1750; Panel from a series of ten on a shunga-style painted hand scroll (kakemono-e); sumi, color and gofun on silk. Private collection.

In romantic and sexual kissing, the physical sensations are often primary. Thus romantic kissing tends to be more intense and prolonged (see French kiss).

The term is also used for expressions of affection that do not involve the lips. The Eskimo kiss is executed by the two individuals gently rubbing the tips of their noses together - in the Maori culture of New Zealand this is called a hongi. This greeting has other forms. In Malaysia, Charles Darwin reported the following: "The woman squatted with their faces upturned; my attendants stood leaning over them, laid the bridge of their noses at right angles over theirs, and commenced rubbing. It lasted somewhat longer than a hearty handshake with us. During this process they uttered a grunt of satisfaction."

The term Kissing Hands is used to formally describe the appointment of the senior state figures to office by British monarchs. Though in the past, the monarch's hand was actually kissed, this is no longer so. When figures such as the British Prime Minister, cabinet members and diplomatics are formally appointed, they are said to have Kissed Hands. Kissing the hand is still practiced as a romantic flourish, especially in Latin countries.

Missing image
A kiss in a 1899 photograph

Asymmetry in kissing

In order to avoid clashing noses, a couple will often turn their faces to one side or another when kissing, so that their heads are at an angle from one another. Often, to make this more comfortable, one person, sitting upright, will support another, perhaps across their lap and in their arms, thus combining hugging and kissing. The person supporting the other is most likely taking the more active role in kissing the other. Writing in Nature, psychologist Oner Gntrkn observed couples kissing in public places such as airports and parks, and showed that the direction of turning is more frequently to the right than the left by a 2:1 ratio. Gntrkn ascribed this asymmetry to a neonatal right side preference.

(data from Nature 421, 711 (13 February 2003); doi:10.1038/421711a)

Kisses in history, art and literature

  • In the gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss - a subversive use of the kiss, as it is a symbol of affection.
  • The last words of British naval commander Horatio, Lord Nelson, are said to have been 'Kiss me Hardy!' to one of his subordinates.
  • In the fairytale Sleeping Beauty and the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, a romantic kiss is used by a male to awaken or breath life into a female, which feminist critics have interpreted as symbolising the suspect idea that women don't have much of a life unless their sexuality is awakened through the attention of men. The Matrix turns the tables on this motif when Trinity kisses the Sleeping Handsome Neo, bringing him back to life at the end of the movie.
  • In the Frog Prince fairytale, it is the male who is transformed from frog to man by a romantic kiss.
  • Gustav Klimt painted a work entitled The Kiss.
  • The Turkish 1997 hit song Simarik has a chorus that ends with two kiss sounds. The Australian cover version is even titled Kiss Kiss.

See also


fr:Baiser nl:Zoen ja:接吻 pt:Beijo ru:Поцелуй fi:Suuteleminen sv:Kyss


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