Fan Death and Tongue Cutting

image Fan Death is "the belief that if someone is sleeping in a sealed room (windows and doors are closed) with an electric fan on, they could die." The theory is that either hypothermia will get you, or the fan breeze will somehow form a vacuum around your mouth and suffocate you. Apparently many people in Korea believe this is true. Or at least, this is what Robin, the creator of, has concluded after living in Korea for five years. He writes:

When I first heard about fan death, I discussed it with my Korean friends and students. I was the foreign skeptic and they were the loyal natives. I was shocked at how powerful their belief was and at the lack of critical thinking about the issue. All you have to do is bring up the issue of fan death with a Korean and it would be difficult to get them to accept the fact that fan death might not be true. Especially when talking to a foreigner, they are more likely to defend their cultural belief than question it. So, unable to have a semi-neutral discussion, I turned to the internet. After checking the internet for more information about fan death, I became greatly frustrated. I could not find any detailed information about fan death. So, I decided to make this site to encourage others to tell their stories and share their knowledge about the issue.

Robin's site includes info about some other unusual Korean beliefs, such as tongue- cutting, which is the theory that if you cut the frenulum (the tissue linking the tongue to the floor of the mouth) "your tongue will be more flexible and be able to pronounce those difficult English sounds." Robin says that for this reason tongue surgery is quite popular in Korea.

Body Manipulation Death

Posted on Wed Mar 09, 2005


A lot of... ahh.. less-technological.. peoples develop some odd beliefs about electrical and eletronic devices. They also tend to be willing to believe 'allegorical truths' (to quote the book) readily. Given that they may have no reason to *not* believe that, say, a cell phone could explode, a camera steal your soul, or that combs could make you sterile.

Someone has a stroke and dies in his room with a fan blowing, friends discover him, the word spreads that 'hey, Fred died with a fan blowing in his room'... Correlation is drawn.
Posted by Bobcat  in  Californian Wierdo  on  Wed Mar 09, 2005  at  11:52 PM
My aunt never lets me sleep with a fan on when I visit her (yes, I'm Korean). I dunno...maybe cos I'm 2nd generation, I'm fine with keeping the fan on all night during the summer, and (so far) I haven't died. (They also say that if you keep too many lilies in a closed room you can die from the heavy purfume. Whatever.) And I have heard people say that cutting the little thing under your tongue will help you speak English better, but I've never heard of anyone actually getting the surgery. Which is surprising, considering the other kinds of surgeries Korean are willing to subject themselves to. Like sticking metal rods in their shin bones with gears on the sides to make themselves taller (it takes 4 years and you have gears sticking out of your ankles! Why the heck would anyone do that?!).
Posted by Lydie  on  Wed Mar 09, 2005  at  11:56 PM
Koreans are hardly "less-technological" than Americans or other Westerners, and to be fair, they also have their fair share of weird myths about electronics. Just take a look at snopes.

I think it has more to do with general ignorance about how such things work, and nothing to do with specific cultures.
Posted by John  in  Seattle  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  12:44 AM
A fan does not cool a room, it simply moves the air about very quickly, causing a 'cooling' sensation. If the temperature in the room is 100degrees & you put a fan in that room, you are just moving around 100degree air. Also, the motor causes heat itself, it's more likely the room would get warmer than colder.

And I think it's the way the mouth moves in general that helps w/ language. That's why learning a language at a young age is easier, their jaws & tongue are still fairly new & do not have a set "muscle memory". Think of typing at a keyboard. If you've learned to use the homerow keys...every time you sit at a keyboard, you automatically go back to that position. Probably without thinking about it. By the time adulthood rolls around your mouth, jaw, & tongue have a specific way to move to help sounds out. You have a specific muscle memory & will have to practice all the time to perfect a new language.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  05:34 AM
I have to agree with John. We're not conscious of our own superstitions because everyone around us holds them. When I was a kid, I don't think you would have been able to find a single person, no matter how well educated,who didn't think that you should wait an hour after eating before going swimming. No matter how illogical some bit of urban lore is, if everyone believes it, you're treated like an idiot if you don't.
Posted by JoeSixpack  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  06:50 AM
I cut my frenulum, not to aid in speech, but oral sex. Prior to doing it my tongue would only extend about a half inch outside my mouth. After doing it my tongue extends almost 3 times that.
Posted by Neal  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  06:57 AM
Awhile back I had a piece of newspaper out to protect my table while doing a craft project. On the upside of the paper was an article about the Korean government's attempts to get parents to stop getting their kids this tongue surgery because the belief behind it wasn't true. If I remember right, the government wasn't having much success.
Posted by Frederick J. Barnett  in  Sorrento, LA  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  08:00 AM
...I might actually have read that article.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  08:18 AM
Maegan, doesn't moving air around cause a real cooling effect? I mean, it's not just an illusion of cooling.

Back in high school I used to go kayaking a lot, and I know that if you fell out of the kayak in a swift-moving (cold) river, you could get hypothermia within minutes, because the water would just whisk all the heat away from your body. So you had to be really careful and get out of the water quickly. Whereas falling into a slow-moving canal, or something like that, was much less dangerous (in terms of hypothermia... obviously you don't need to worry about rapids in a canal either).
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  08:27 AM
Okay, it works kinda like this.
If you put a thermometer in a glass of water (suspended, not touching the sides) and blow a fan, or even a leaf blower, at it, the temperature does not change.

However, if you take that glass (thinner glass, faster results) and cover the outside of it with water, the temperature will go down, because of the heat loss when the outside water evaporates.

If you stand in front of a fan with no moisture on you, all you feel is wind.

However, stand in front of the fan with any moisture on you, and you will get cold as the water evaporates. Don't believe it? Try it. As the water evaporates, you will get cold, but as it disappears, you will warm back up, even though the fan is still blowing.

There is no way that simply using a fan cools the air, or it would always be freezing out when it is windy (think of the wind in the desert). Also, there would be no need for refrigeration units or air conditioners, all you would need is a fan blowing on your food.

As for falling in cold water; the water, being cold, "sucks" the heat out of your body. This is simply the molecular structure stabilizing and homogenizing the local heat. It is also very deadly. It just sucks the heat out of you faster than your body can burn calories to warm it back up.

As for the frenulum debate, it brings to mind the Gene Simmons urban legend about how his tounge got so long. He has denied it so many time that he eventually went to a doctor and had it proven that he never had it done. Not that people believe him.
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  09:31 AM
Waaay back in the 50's (n Tx), My mom and my doctor decided to cut my frenulum so I wouldn't be "tounge tied". I guess it worked, I've been talking ever since.
Posted by artemys  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  09:49 AM
Oh, and for the record, to increase air pressure you have to compact the air somehow. A fan running in an enclosed space will not do that.
If you were to take a fan and blow it down a long tube that narrows, you increase the air speed but not the air pressure (at least not significantly enough to bother with).
But if you were to put a plastic bag on the end of that tube, the air pressure would increase because the air is being compacted, filling the bag.
A better demo would be with a balloon, because to inflate, the pressure on the inside must increase and then stabilize with the outside air pressure. Basically what I'm saying is that to increase the air pressure you have to have an open end on the system somwhere.
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  10:21 AM
Thomas Merton, the famed American poet, essayist, and Trappist monk, was in fact killed by an electric fan while he was on a tour of East Asia. Apparently the fan had bad wiring, and when Merton touched either the fan itself or the table it sat on, he was electrocuted. So fans can kill you, but not by suffocation or hypothermia.
Posted by Big Gary C, pedantic again  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  11:25 AM
Relative difficulty of pronouncing Korean and English has nothing to do with the structure of the tongue. It's all a question of practice. Korean-Americans who grow up in the U.S. have no trouble pronouncing American English, and surely they have the same tongue shape as their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
English has a fairly large set of phonemes (speech sounds) compared to most other languages, including several sounds that do not occur in Korean and that many Koreans find difficult to learn. It's a lot like when English speakers try to learn to pronounce French vowels.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  11:31 AM
Fan death is true. I was killed by fan death 6 months ago. But don't worry, it didn't even hurt.
Posted by brian  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  01:03 PM
it's not just korea. i was warned about "fan death" when i lived in rural japan.
Posted by m  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  01:26 PM
Yes, I agree, cutting the lingual frenulum has no effect on speech.

Otherwise, we would heve to cut ours to speak English also, as we (being English speakers) have the exact same mouth structure as non-English speakers do.

Now all we have to do is somehow educate people so they will stop mutilating themselves or others for something that has absolutely no benefits (kinda like trepanation).
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  02:07 PM
And of course James Bond himself kills a thug with a electric fan at the beginning of 'Goldfinger', by throwing him into a bath and knocking the fan on top of him. "Shocking", he says, "positively shocking", and then Shirley Bassey starts singing and the credits roll over a dancing girl painted gold.
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  02:17 PM
I'm going to Korea to film a reality show with myself sleeping in a room with a fan running. The ratings I will get. I will have millions of Korean fans. GET IT!
Posted by AceMac  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  03:14 PM
Don't you suffocate if you're covered in paint? wink
Posted by Silentz  in  general  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  04:07 PM
What if you were in a closed room with a fan AND you were covered in paint??
Posted by Silentz  in  general  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  04:07 PM
... and dodging the armadillos and roaches...
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  04:19 PM
"Don't you suffocate if you're covered in paint?"
This did happen in that "Goldfinger" movie, but not in real life. Not being amphibians, we breathe with our lungs, not through our skin.
Having some kinds of paint all over you could have bad effects on your health (lead poinsoning, for example), but asphyxiation would not be one of your problems.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Thu Mar 10, 2005  at  04:33 PM
The whole Goldfinger 'covered in paint' thing confused me as a kid; if it was the case that you could kill somebody by denying their skin of air, shouldn't wet-suited frogment also die? From what I remember of the book, Oddjob breaks the girl's neck and *then* covers her in paint, although I could be very much mistaken.
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Fri Mar 11, 2005  at  03:41 AM
I'd go with Ashley. Read her website, she REALLY likes Bond. It's been like 15 years since I've seen it, so I don't remember for sure...
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Fri Mar 11, 2005  at  07:19 AM
I only mentioned the paint thing because it was on another "Mythbuster" episode that they busted that myth.
Posted by Silentz  in  general  on  Fri Mar 11, 2005  at  09:32 AM
Yeah, Mom always told me that if I turned the fan on and kept the window open at night in summer I'd catch a cold. It's one of those old wive's tales, like how they say bubblegum stays in your gut for 20 years.
Posted by Laser Potato, who fears no fan  on  Fri Mar 11, 2005  at  11:43 AM
I guess tongue thing came from India. I read that Indian yogis do the same thing. Why? To allow tongue to roll inside and press backside of the mouth. Though, on the contrary this position helps to keep inner silence.
Posted by Loxx  on  Fri Mar 11, 2005  at  01:32 PM
About body paint - look at divers they put rubber suits and spend hours under water.
Posted by Loxx  on  Fri Mar 11, 2005  at  01:36 PM
Touching the subject of tongue cutting. My mother took my new born sister to see her great-grandmother who was probably born in the 1870's in a remote part of Derbyshire, Northern England.

The old lady insisted that my sister was "tongue tied" because of the taughtness of her frenulum and wanted to cut it with scissors. My mother resisted this strenuously and it was not done. This must have been about 1957.

I have not noticed that my sister ever had any subsequent problems with her speech. Far from it!
Posted by Ross Davies  in  London  on  Fri Mar 11, 2005  at  04:28 PM
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