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Fear of Licking

Woman supposedly finds cockroach larvae "in" her tongue after licking envelopes

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Young businesswoman licking envelope seal at desk
Kelvin Murray/The Image Bank/Getty Images

IN THE world according to urban folklore horrors await us at every turn, lurking even in the most ordinary places. We are warned to beware of pay-phone coin slots booby-trapped with infectious needles, chicken sandwiches pocked with pus-filled tumors, toilet seats infested with venomous spiders, and so on.

Is nothing safe anymore? Consider the hazards involved in merely licking an envelope.

In 1999, rumor had it that a number of people fell down dead after moistening the glue on ATM deposit envelopes with their tongues. Why? Because, supposedly, someone had adulterated the glue with cyanide, a fatal poison. The moral of the story was clear: envelope licking can be hazardous to your health. Don't do it.

Not enough people paid heed, apparently, as evidenced by the following report sent to me by a reader in January 2000:

I have a co-worker who states that his wife (who is a nurse) witnessed a situation involving someone who licked an envelope and then "hatched" a cockroach from her tongue. Supposedly while licking an egg-infested glue strip on an envelope, she got a paper cut. This then got "infected" but when she went to the hospital to have it examined, the doctor made an incision to release the pus and a roach crawled out.

Huh. Not to impugn the integrity of our correspondent's co-worker's spouse, but... baloney! The entire scenario smacked of urban legend — so much so that I demanded to know where the alleged incident took place. Virginia, I was told.

'This is a true story... pass it on'

Imagine my skeptical reaction when, just a few days later, I began receiving copies of a forwarded email claiming that precisely the same thing had just happened to a postal worker in California:

If you lick your envelopes... You won't anymore!!!!!

A woman was working in a post office in California, one day she licked the envelopes and postage stamps instead of using a sponge. That very day the lady cut her tongue on the envelope.

A week later, she noticed an abnormal swelling of her tongue. She went to the doctor, and they found nothing wrong. Her tongue was not sore or anything.

A couple of days later, her tongue started to swell more, and it began to get really sore, so sore, that she could not eat. She went back to the hospital, and demanded something be done. The doctor, took an x-ray of her tongue, and noticed a lump. He prepared her for minor surgery.

When the doctor cut her tongue open, a live roach crawled out. There were roach eggs on the seal of the envelope. The egg was able to hatch inside of her tongue, because of her saliva. It was warm and moist...

This is a true story... Pass it on.

This is a true story? I think not. The separate accounts you have just read, the first set in Virginia and the second set clear across the country in California, arrived in my inbox five days apart (and more have arrived since). They are variants of the same urban legend. The urban legend is false.

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