The basic rule in most circles today is, if it moves, kiss it. Particularly on New Year's Eve.

In the past few years, in America and much of Europe, social kissing has proliferated at an astounding rate.

Kissing has a long and colorful history. Some of it: Defining the Term

The dictionary says a kiss is a light contact with the lips in affection, greeting or reverence. In other words:

A contraction of the mouth due to an enlargement of the heart. Anonymous

A rosy dot over the i of loving. Cyrano de Bergerac

That which you cannot give without taking and cannot take without giving. Anonymous Ways to Say It

In English, we have more than just kiss. We have osculation (fancy), peck, buss, smack, smooch and probably a few rarer words. They all sound silly. Subteens call kissing getting to first base. College students have been known to toss around expressions like kissy-face and smacky-lips (related to huggy-bear), but even they don't take them seriously. How Did It Start?

Some theories on the origins of kissing:

Birds and various higher animals feed their young mouth-to-mouth. This accounts for primates' instinct to kiss, which accounts for our kissing.

Babies get pleasure from their mouths: taste and touch. In a throwback to infancy, adults also appreciate touching something soft with the mouth, so they find kissing enjoyable.

In ancient Rome, women were forbidden to drink wine. According to one old Roman writer, kissing grew out of Roman men's practice of tasting their womenfolks' mouths to see if they'd been cheating. He probably wrote that . . . tongue-in-cheek. Around the World

If you're like most Americans, all you know about kissing worldwide is that the French kiss on both cheeks and the Eskimos don't kiss with their mouths -- they rub noses. Well, half the world never even heard of kissing until the great period of world exploration, between the mid-1400s and the 1800s. People Who Never Kiss?

Yes, never. Social kissing and sexual kissing are still nonexistent in many cultures. Eskimos rub noses, and so do the Burmese and several other peoples. Other groups prefer to pat or stroke each other, hug, raise their hands or press their thumbs on meeting. Oh, the English!

Social kissing has had its ups and downs through the ages. Five hundred years ago, Erasmus was shocked to find that the English kissed just about everyone in sight. He wrote to Faustus Andrelinus: "Whichever way you turn there is nothing but kisses. Ah! Faustus, if you had once tasted the tenderness, the fragrance of these kisses, you would wish to stay in England . . . as long as you lived."

England's freewheeling kissing came to an end in the late 1600s, when kisses gave way to bows and curtsies and tips of the hat. One suggestion is that the London plague of 1665 was responsible. Old Manners

An American etiquette book of the turn of the century ruled that public kissing, even by engaged couples, "is a reprehensible custom and should not be tolerated in good society." In the 1920s, Emily Post decreed that when a man meets a woman in a restaurant, "On no account, kiss her." And, "in good society ladies do not kiss each other when they meet either at parties or in public." Mama From the Train a Kiss

Throwing a kiss -- kissing your own hand and waving it at someone -- is an old custom. Some ancients, like the Romans, threw kisses to emperors and other big shots, and to statues of their gods. Today, show business folks throw more kisses than anyone. Dinah Shore did it every week at the end of "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" and made "Mmmmwah!" a national joke. Make It Better

Children know that mothers and fathers can kiss a scraped knee or elbow and make it better. Faith healers sometimes claim to kiss away physical troubles of their patients. The Kiss of Respect

In old Greece, common folk kissed the hand, the breast or the knee of their superiors. Ancient Roman emperors gave their hands to be kissed by noblemen; peasants were made to kiss the emperor's knee. By the Middle Ages, just where you kissed a person clearly showed the degree of your respect. You could kiss someone of your own standing on the mouth, but you kissed the hand of a medium-level political or religious leader, the hem of a true big shot and the foot or ground beneath a supreme leader. The Betrayer's Kiss

In the New Testament, the disciple Judas points out Jesus to his enemies by kissing him; thus the term "Judas kiss," a kiss of betrayal. A Mafia custom, apparently not much followed today, called for a betrayer of the Family to be kissed on the mouth as a solemn, ceremonial way of saying, "Tomorrow, dear friend, you will be lying under 30 feet of water with two cement blocks securely fastened to your left leg." "You May Kiss the Bride"

The wedding kiss is a remnant of an ancient ceremony that took place before the wedding, a sort of business kiss, witnessed by friends and relatives, that showed that the bride and groom knew what they were getting into. In the early Christian church, the priest kissed the groom, who passed the kiss on to the bride. For the Superstitious

Kiss over a gate and you'll have bad luck.

Kiss your elbow and you'll change your sex.

If your nose itches you'll be kissed by a fool.

If a sitting woman and a standing man kiss, they'll quarrel.

If a bride doesn't cry when the groom first kisses her at the ceremony, their marriage will be unhappy. Political Kisses

In England a while back one M.P. was expelled for jamming his mouth with gold guineas and slipping one to each elector's wife as he kissed his way through the lines. In the 1912 congressional elections in the U.S., an Alabamian named Huddleston was said to have kissed every child in Birmingham. Stopping the Buss

In Rome, 2,000 years ago, hoping to calm a raging herpes epidemic, the Emperor Tiberius banned kissing. In medieval Europe, if a married woman kissed any man but her husband she could be tried for adultery. Kissing in the World of Art

For some reason, 1908 was a big year for the kiss in art: Gustav Klimt, the Austrian, did a painting called "The Kiss" and Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian, did a statue with the same title. Better known than either, of course, is the marble sculpture by 19th-century sculptor Auguste Rodin called "The Kiss." Some Advice on Kissing

My child, if you finally decide to let a man kiss you, put your whole heart and soul into it. No man likes to kiss a rock. Lady Chesterfield, 18th century

If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not you should kiss a pretty girl, always give her the benefit of the doubt. Thomas Carlyle, 19th century

Kiss beneath the garden gate,

Kiss beneath a rose,

But the proper place to kiss a boy

Is right beneath the nose. Children's autograph books, 20th century Final Votes -- Pro & Con

The pro, from conductor Arturo Toscanini: "I kissed my first woman and smoked my first cigarette on the same day. I have never had time for tobacco since."

The con, from author Jonathan Swift: "Lord! I wonder what fool it was that first invented kissing."