From Fortean Times 192 (January 2005):
'Googling' offers 52,400 farting sites - clearly an explosive topic. Pride of place remains with Joseph Pujol, Le Petomane (Fartiste), whose 1890s Moulin Rouge wind-breaking performances attracted fans as diverse as Belgian King Leopold and Sigmund Freud.
Apparently a Gallic speciality. Montaigne (Essays, bk1 no21) knew a man who could fart at will, arranging them in metrical sequences - shades of Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles - also one who "had an arse so stormy and churlish that it has obliged its master to fart unremittingly for 40 years and is thus bringing him to his death."
Eighteenth century England was hyper-flatulent. Apart from the jingle "Piss and Fart, Sound at Heart," Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) lists the onomatopoeic synonyms Fice, Fizzle, and Foyse - they sound like Wilson, Keppel, and Betty - while Randle is defined as "a set of nonsensical verses, repeated by schoolboys and young people guilty of breaking wind backwards before their companions; if they neglect this apology, they are liable to kicks, pinches, and fillips." Scabrous reminiscence: every Monday morning at school, we had an in-class farting contest. Keener competitors predosed themselves with sulphur tablets, the ethics of which were hotly debated; we had never heard of randles.
John Aubrey (Brief Lives) records "the Earle of Oxford that lett the fart before Queen Elizabeth: whereupon he travelled; this eruption was celebrated in the verse Drolleries of Sir John Hoskyns."
Cue for old joke: Sir, you have farted before my wife. Sir, I am sorry; I didn't know it was her turn.
Farting is part of our classical heritage. Characters constantly crepitate in Aristophanes's comedies. Two slaves compete in Petronius (Satyricon, ch117). Martial (Epigrams, bk4 no87 & bk12 no77) knew Bassa who constantly broke wind at her baby, and a man who let go in Jupiter's temple, despite first exploding 20 times in a public lavatory, perhaps the same one where Suetonius (Life of Lucan, par6) says that poet risked treason charges for quoting Nero's verse "So loud it thundered'neath the earth" to accompany a huge fart.
Anti-Semites broke wind at Jews (Horace, Satires, bk1 no9 v70). Petronius's dinner host Trimalchio (ch 47 para4) bade his guests let fly at table, possibly a joke on Claudius's (Suetonius, Life, ch32) law sanctioning such behaviour.
Horace's pasquinade (Satires, bk1 no8 v46) against witches ends with them being scattered by the tremendous fart of a Priapus statue. This incident is both scatological and theological, apotropaic wind-breaking being a good omen in (e.g.) the fourth Homeric Hymn (w295-8), two inscriptions (nos 6 & 10) from Aphrodisias, and the Chariton stage mime ( Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vo13 no413 v3) where (text uncertain) Fart may even be deified as a goddess; cf. RW Daniel, `Laughing Stones,' Zeitschrift f. Papyrologie u. Epigraphik, vol 161,1985, pp127-30.
So, the difference between Fart and Fort may be both bowel and vowel. (NB: See Munroe Scott, Oh, Vulgar Wind: a Sympathetic Overview of the Common Fart (Culture Concepts, Toronto, 1994).
(reprinted with permission of the Author; blame any typically graphic transcription errors on dm)