Passing Sounds

Often, when passing someone while walking along the street, I have an urge to scratch my face. Other people do this as well. I don’t know why, and as a result I’ve started paying attention to this minor phenomena. There is probably a name for this phenomena, but at the moment I am too distracted to look for it.

While paying attention to this, I began to notice that some people make sounds as they pass. Small, short sounds usually made vocally. This is interesting: A new sound world that I never noticed until now. I wonder why people do this.

Are these sounds intentional? Instinctual? What motivates them? Do these sounds communicate something, and if so, what? Is there a repertoire/grammar for these sounds?

Are these sounds part of some sort of avoidance instinct we have? Are these sounds motivated by the same thing that motivates so many people to stare at their smartphones?

Do these sounds acknowledge, or greet or dismiss the one being passed? Is there some relationship between this gesture and the gesture of saluting, which we often associate with the military?

Right now it’s only an idea. Perhaps something more substantive will result if I try to organise this idea a bit more…

I think I will start keeping a log of these sounds, as I notice them along the street. No idea if this will end up being anything useful, but for now I’m curious if there is some sort of taxonomy of these sounds, and if they could be of any use in a sound project.


Here’s what I have so far, collected between 09-Sep-2018 and 12-Feb-2019:

Sound Number of times encountered
Silence / “default” (whatever incidental sound is being made, ie clothes rustling, etc.) So far, overwhelmingly frequent
Footscuff 2
Cough 1
Remove keys from pocket 2
t-ch vocal sound 1
Melody fragment:
do re mi (base long short(. .. .)) 1
indistinct 13
Whistling a random tune 4
Throat clearing
mmmP Mmm 10
Slight inhale 2
Slight exhale 9
Forced exhale (fuuuuuuuh, goes down about 20 cents) 1
Hmm (downward pitch) 3
muttering to self 14
something like “De-Ne” 1
something like “mal” 1
something like “zum Pass” 1