Writing in the Denver Post, reporter Andrea L. Fisher says that “in Japan, as much as one-third of elementary students admit to licking their classmates' eyes. It is called eye licking or “worming,' more accurately called, oculolinctus.” She explains that eye licking “has become a fetish among elementary children and adolescents to express intimacy between young lovers.” Then she asks the poignant question, “But why? What would possess two people to lick each other's eyes?”
Perhaps a better question would have been: Is this really a trend among Japanese school kids? That’s the question Tokyo-based scribe, Mark Schreiber asked and the answer he got was, well, eye-popping.
Writing in the somewhat obscure Number 1 Shimbun, Schreiber pulls the lid back on this widespread eye licking tale to reveal it as nothing more than a sordid hoax. He says that “it was not especially difficult to at least cast doubts on the sweeping claim that large numbers of Japanese adolescents were suffering from an epidemic of tongue-induced pink eye.”
Our urban myth-busting man in Japan no doubt dug deep into his reporter’s bag of tricks to get to the bottom of this story. Using some sort of journalistic communications device (perhaps a telephone) he went so far as to contact a couple of Japanese ophthalmological associations, a school clinicians’ organization and other medical professionals. “None of them had the faintest idea of what I was talking about,” Schreiber says. That all makes me think there is less to this “trend” than meets the eye.
(Portions of this post have appeared in related MediaBugs reports filed by JT Cassidy.)
If you want a real eye-opener, take a look at "Lick This!" by Mark Schreiber and read how the tale of a fake fad made in Japan made its way into the pages of newspapers, magazines, and more all around the world.
Also see: "In the Public Eye" on Snopes.com
Related MediaBugs reports (the same error repeated over and over again):
Shangheyed (Business Insider); Exploding a Media Myth (TNT); Poke in the Eye (The New Age); Weird Science (Science World Report); A Funny Sounding Story (AOL News); Fox Takes Eye off Eyeball Story (Fox 29 News, Philadelphia) Eye Network Loses Sight of Facts (CBS Atlanta); In the Shadow of Doubt (Toronto Sun); The Hot Trend That's Not (PIX 11 News, New York); Houston We Have a Problem (KRIV-TV, Fox 26 in Houston, Texas); The Spread (Houston Chronicle); Seeing Eye to Eye (Huffington Post/UK edition); Eye Witless News Report (ABC News); UPI Out of Focus (United Press International); Another Code Brown! (Medical Daily); Entertaining... Licks Telling the News (ABC2 News, WMAR-TV, Baltimore); Didn't Get the Memo (New Zealand Herald); Here is the Thing (MSN News Canada) Fatal Error (CTV News Canada); Time to Correct? (Time Magazine); More Than Meets the Eye (New York Post); A Cock-eyed Story (New York Daily News); Faking It (Syracuse.com/The Post-Standard); Bucking the Trend That Wasn't (The Times of India); If You Can't Lick 'Em Join 'Em (Fox News); Not a Lick of Truth (The Telegraph); Eye Network Lacks Nose for Fishy Stories (CBS News); Calling Out the Daily Caller (The Daily Caller); Code Brown (Medical News Today); Gawk at This! (Gawker); Not a Thing (The San Francisco Chronicle); Less Than Meets the Eye (The Guardian); A Blind Eye to the Truth (Huffington Post); Falling for a Fake Story... (The Washington Times)
Fixed/Updated (in abc order by news organization)
Shangheyed (Business Insider); Gawk at This! (Gawker); A Blind Eye to the Truth (Huffington Post); Another Code Brown! (Medical Daily); Code Brown (Medical News Today); Exploding a Media Myth (TNT); Not a Lick of Truth (The Telegraph)
Disappeared (story scrubbed clean off reporting news organization's website):