A neutral salt made by reacting a fatty acid with a caustic alkali, and used in washing and cleaning. One end of a soap molecule is attracted to water; the other to nonpolar substances such as oil. Thus, when mixed with water, soap helps dissolve ordinarily-insoluble oil and oily dirt. The term "soap" is also used casually to refer to detergents, a class of synthetic chemicals which work similarly but are more chemically stable than true soaps.

Soaps and detergents are not exactly interchangeable, even though they do roughly the same things with oil and water. Detergents, being more stable than soaps, are less affected by hard water -- but are also frequently less biodegradable. Early detergents were about as biodegradable as plastic, and caused serious pollution problems; luckily, they've gotten better since then.

Modern soaps, such as Dr. Bronner's, are made from vegetable oils and potassium hydroxide -- not animal fat and lye.

Soap is a surfactant, meaning that it reduces the surface tension of water. This has the amusing effect of helping water form bubbles.

According to my chemistry textbook, soap works something like this:

First, take some good ol' fat. Next, boil the fat with potassium or sodium hydroxide. The salt formed from this acid-base reaction is soap.

The resulting molecule will look kind've like an individual sperm, the tail being a chain of non-polar hydrocarbons and the head being a carboxylate ion bonded to said sodium or potassium.

When you put these soap molecules on some dirt, the non-polar ends will naturally begin to gather around any non-polar stuff (as non-polar solutions do), that stuff, specifically, is dirt. This formation will cause the soap molecules (also called micelles) to create a sphere with all polar carboxylates making up the surface, and, fortunately, all the dirt and gunk trapped within with the hydrocarbons.

When you put this in a solution (i.e. wash it), the polar surface of each soap-sphere will form a solution within the polar solvent of water, and, therefore, be whisked away.

Most people are conditioned from childhood to think that soap kills germs. Except for the occasional antibacterial brand, it doesn't. Well, not directly.

What soap (and shampoo) does do is remove the grease and natural oils that form on the surface of your skin. Bacteria and other microbes find a home under these oils and begin to reproduce. It only takes a few hours for these microbes to establish themselves across the skin of your hands or anywhere else on your body, once they've gotten a start.

Oil, as just about everyone knows, repels water, and this is how your body keeps your skin moist. Using soap to remove the grease and oils gives the running water from a faucet the chance to rinse the microbes off your skin. The water does the actual disinfection, not the soap.

In other words, an antibacterial soap isn't necessarily more effective than the ordinary kind. It gives you the excuse to be more lazy about how you wash, but as most people have heard in the newspapers by now, modern medicine is starting to lose its war of attrition against bacteria. You're just as well off if you use an ordinary soap, as long as you cover your hands with it thoroughly and rinse with water for at least 10-15 seconds.

Miranda Iwataki challenged me to spontaneously write a poem about soap. I tried and failed, but the need to do so burned within me. So much so that, six months later at 1:30 A.M. in darkest Kyoto I began to write what sits before you today.


Clean me
Take my insides and give me clarity
Fix me
Make me sterile, cool, and crud-free
Be my heroine babe and, save me
I'm shooting gysers of neutronic energy
I vomit flowers like you were on LSD
I sing with the forces of 500 horses
Pushing El Caminoes and Porches
And worse is I CAN'T STOP
Out of control like Regis Philbin
Forget the Million, just get me some AIR
I'm everywhere
Tasty and rare
Pent up like a package in Calvin Klein underwear
Let's not go there, let's go here
No, not here, here
You call this creativity?
It's a nativity of naivete and fear
See, here's Mary an' Joseph
An' a pipe bomb wrap'd in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger in fair Verona where we lay our scene
Count down to explode--DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER--
Set the world on fire
Three wise cracks adding fuel to the blaze
In back of the place is an ox and an ass, which is me
As seen on TV
As exposed to the world by David Duchovny
Soundtrack by Thomas D
Written and reflected in the eyes of every man an' wo-man
A novel adapation by Neil Gaiman proves lacking
With the Sandman sent packing
An apropos cameo by Delirium seems hackneyed
My friends are all drag-kings with acne
Ninth-level rogues who backstab me
Rolling up plenties of natural twenties
I go down like a prom date
Come up like what you ate when you mixed Pepto-Bismol with tequila and Kaopectate
You can blame it on fate
But it's a mistake to relate the victor with the winner in a state of debate
A love affair straight out of Greensleaves
Online like Keanu Reeves
Disconnect equals brain-freeze and Lawrence Fishborne needs me
Rip off Ghost in the Shell with dime-store philosophy
Knock, knock, sell some punk an expensive MD
Tip my hat to John Woo and make out with Trinity
Hey it's all about me, I'm #1
You've Come A Long Way, Baby
Now we're almost done
Want you to be my heroine
Like you to be my heroine
Want you to be my heroine
Want you to be my only heroine
Clean out my insides, defuse me
Bliss me out and use me
Radioactive tingle like Spiderman can be fanned or made bland
Can't you see I need to be put down?
Run my energy into a hole in the ground
My life-force has powers
My grave will sprout flowers
Their seeds will cure cancer, turn cripples to dancers
Prancers, and Vixens, Comets, and Cupids and Richard M. Nixon
Give me hope I'll be saved
Clean me up, Joan of Arc
Hold me down, give me hope
Want you to be my heroine
Need you to be my soap

Ah, soap. The true yardstick of civilization.

According to legend, Roman women washing clothing in the Tiber river noticed that the clothes came out cleaner in one certain area of the river: directly underneath the hill used for animal sacrifices (this was because the animal fat became lye as it washed down the hill into the river). It was around then (1000 BC) that the process of making soap from fat and lye was first understood and put into practice (in fact, the Sumerians in 3000 BC stumbled onto a method of creating a dilute soap solution with potash and fat, but they never separated the actual "soap" out of the mixture as the Romans did). The Roman ruins at Pompeii included a soap factory with completed bars of soap (probably for laundry, it was too harsh to be used on the skin).

Today, besides keeping us clean, soap provides us with a cheap and efficient source of napalm (Napalm is simply one part gasoline and one part soap) and nitroglycerine (as long as you have sulfuric acid and nitric acid as well)!

Soap, by Francis Ponge
Translated by Lane Dunlop

Taken piece by piece, in other words, examining each section of this book on its own, proves to be a disappointing experience. This is due in large part to the fact that the most enjoyable part of the book is the introduction, which is translated from German (which, in turn, was translated from French). Upon further investigation, perhaps the most impressive sentence in the entire text (“…these passages always striking his eyes as nebulosities cursively slanting toward the right (or, shall we say, since we are still circling on a path of Babel: in italics).”) is on the page preceding the introduction.

But taken as a whole, as a stone, it is impressive solely for its form. Jarring at first, once the reader reaches the middle of the book and discovers the eighteen-page poem/essay that has been the culmination of the fifty pages previous, which all contained the author’s carefully crafted and manipulated notes, it all begins to make sense.

While Ponge does warn the reader early on that there will be much repetition in this book, there is, perhaps, more repetitionof certain words and phrases than would normally be advisable in a text not xplicitly labeled as “poetry.” But when the true heart of the book is reached, everything unwanted is filtered out, washed off, and only the truest, most expressive words from Ponge’s voluminous dossier are used. The poem at the center of the book, which is comprised entirely of phrases from the first fifty pages of text, is at the same time familiar and fresh, representing the perfected form of all that has come before.

If nothing else, this book proves how much work truly goes into writing a good poem. A far cry from the method employed by many young poets of writing whatever sounds good at the time, Ponge’s process, at least on this project, took close to thirty years of research, writing and fine-tuning until he finally created the piece (of soap) representing everything he had compiled on the subject.

The book reads like it has been washed with soap, like it is a bar of soap. Like Ponge took his massive dossier and cleaned it in a small basin of soapy water, carefully scrubbing at the words with his foamy hands, until the clean, clear heart of the text revealed itself. He rinsed it off, dried it, and presented the piece, Soap.

I still liked the writing in the introduction (and the other German interruptions of the main text) better than the bulk of the book, but because of the form and way in which Ponge leads the reader, systematically and logically, to his end result, I appreciate what an extraordinary process was involved in writing this book and I can truly feel the years of work that went into it.

Wow, to me...

”SOAP is the story of two sisters . . .Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell. Jessica lives in a neighborhood known as . . . rich. Jessica loves life. The only thing about life that she would change, if she could, is that she would set it all to music. The Tates have more secrets than they do money.

We're coming to Mary's house now. Mary too, loves life. Unfortunately, life doesn't seem to be too crazy about her. The Campbells don't have nearly as much money as the Tates. They do, however, have as many secrets."

So began the introduction of the groundbreaking and controversial TV comedy show that went by the name of Soap. It aired for four seasons on ABC from 1977 through 1981. If you,re lucky, you can still catch a couple episodes every now and then on Comedy Central.

The show, created by Susan Harris, (also creator of Benson and The Golden Girls) was an over the top spoof of soap opera’s. It got some advanced publicity (notoriety?) when Newsweek published an article (inaccurately) stating that the debut episode was to depict a Catholic priest being seduced inside a confessional booth. Needless to say, religious groups were in an uproar and advertisers went scurrying for cover. But the witch hunt was on and the show was moved outside of the so-called “family hour” and was forced to carry one of those parental discretion notices. This failed to prevent it from attracting a loyal viewing audience.

Based in Dunn’s River Connecticut, the show focuses on two families, the Campbells and the Tates. Let’s take a brief look at each starting with…

The Campbells

The middle class ones of the clan. Mary was married to Burt who was impotent. They had a gay son named Jodie and another son named Danny who was a small time mobster. As the show progressed, Burt’s son named Bob moved in. Bob was a ventriloquist who relied on his dummy named Chuck to do most of the talking for him.

The Tates

The rich ones. Jessica Tate was married to an unethical, disloyal stockbroker by the name of Chester. Their kids were Billy, later abducted by a religious cult, and daughters Corrine and Eunice who later had affairs with senators and priests. The butler was Benson who later had a show of his own as a result of his success on Soap.

What made it controversial? C’mon, who wouldn’t like a show that had the following themes.

Folks, that just a partial list of the events that shaped the lives of the Campbells and the Tates. For a full listing and a few laughs I highly a recommend http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/8163/soap.htm#LINKS.

Main Cast of Characters

Katherine Helmond as Jessica Tate
Cathryn Damon as Mary Campbell
Robert Mandan as Chester Tate
Richard Mulligan as Burt Campbell
Billy Crystal as Jodie Dallas
Ted Wass as Danny Dallas
Diana Canova as Corinne Tate Flotsky
Robert Guillaume as Benson
Jennifer Salt as Eunice Tate Lightner
Jimmy Baio as Billy Tate
Arthur Peterson as The Major
Jay Johnson as Chuck / Bob Campbell

That probably doesn’t do the show justice as there were many other characters interspersed throughout the life of the show that were memorable in some way or another.

In closing, if you get a chance, by all means take a look at the show. I doubt something could be aired today that matches the writing and the issues that Soap tackled during its all too brief run.

Soap (?), n. [OE. sope, AS. sape; akin to D. zeep, G. seife, OHG. seifa, Icel. sapa, Sw. spa, Dan. sbe, and perhaps to AS. sipan to drip, MHG. sifen, and L. sebum tallow. Cf. Saponaceous.]

A substance which dissolves in water, thus forming a lather, and is used as a cleansing agent. Soap is produced by combining fats or oils with alkalies or alkaline earths, usually by boiling, and consists of salts of sodium, potassium, etc., with the fatty acids (oleic, stearic, palmitic, etc.). See the Note below, and cf. Saponification. By extension, any compound of similar composition or properties, whether used as a cleaning agent or not.

⇒ In general, soaps are of two classes, hard and soft. Calcium, magnesium, lead, etc., form soaps, but they are insoluble and useless.

The purifying action of soap depends upon the fact that it is decomposed by a large quantity of water into free alkali and an insoluble acid salt. The first of these takes away the fatty dirt on washing, and the latter forms the soap lather which envelops the greasy matter and thus tends to remove it. Roscoe & Schorlemmer.

Castile soap, a fine-grained hard soap, white or mottled, made of olive oil and soda; -- called also Marseilles, ∨ Venetian, soap. -- Hard soap, any one of a great variety of soaps, of different ingredients and color, which are hard and compact. All solid soaps are of this class. -- Lead soap, an insoluble, white, pliable soap made by saponifying an oil (olive oil) with lead oxide; -- used externally in medicine. Called also lead plaster, diachylon, etc. -- Marine soap. See under Marine. -- Pills of soap Med., pills containing soap and opium. -- Potash soap, any soap made with potash, esp. the soft soaps, and a hard soap made from potash and castor oil. -- Pumice soap, any hard soap charged with a gritty powder, as silica, alumina, powdered pumice, etc., which assists mechanically in the removal of dirt. -- Resin soap, a yellow soap containing resin, -- used in bleaching. -- Silicated soap, a cheap soap containing water glass (sodium silicate). -- Soap bark. Bot. See Quillaia bark. -- Soap bubble, a hollow iridescent globe, formed by blowing a film of soap suds from a pipe; figuratively, something attractive, but extremely unsubstantial.

This soap bubble of the metaphysicians. J. C. Shairp.

-- Soap cerate, a cerate formed of soap, olive oil, white wax, and the subacetate of lead, sometimes used as an application to allay inflammation. -- Soap fat, the refuse fat of kitchens, slaughter houses, etc., used in making soap. -- Soap liniment Med., a liniment containing soap, camphor, and alcohol. -- Soap nut, the hard kernel or seed of the fruit of the soapberry tree, -- used for making beads, buttons, etc. -- Soap plant Bot., one of several plants used in the place of soap, as the Chlorogalum pomeridianum, a California plant, the bulb of which, when stripped of its husk and rubbed on wet clothes, makes a thick lather, and smells not unlike new brown soap. It is called also soap apple, soap bulb, and soap weed. -- Soap tree. Bot. Same as Soapberry tree. -- Soda soap, a soap containing a sodium salt. The soda soaps are all hard soaps. -- Soft soap, a soap of a gray or brownish yellow color, and of a slimy, jellylike consistence, made from potash or the lye from wood ashes. It is strongly alkaline and often contains glycerin, and is used in scouring wood, in cleansing linen, in dyehouses, etc. Figuratively, flattery; wheedling; blarney. [Colloq.] -- Toilet soap, hard soap for the toilet, usually colored and perfumed.


© Webster 1913.

Soap (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Soaped (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Soaping.]


To rub or wash over with soap.


To flatter; to wheedle.



© Webster 1913.

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