“It is good to cast colde water in the face of him that hath the hiccups.” (Regiment of Lyfe, 1553)
“Regiment of Lyfe” was one of the first books on pediatrics, written by Thomas Phaire, an English doctor. I’m imagining medieval women storing jugs of water around their house, dousing their children at the first sign of hiccups.
The word “hiccup” belongs to a family of words called “onomatopoeic” (on-uh-mat-uh–pee-ic) words, those that sound like what they are. Think honk, beep, fizz, knock, ring, and you’re on the right track.
Interestingly, the word “onomatopoeia” has Latin roots, and came into use within a few decades as Phaire’s book – 1545.
Now that we know where onomatopoeic words originate, where in the heck to hiccups come from?? I turned to our friends at Mayo Clinic to learn more. Symptoms of hiccups are familiar – involuntary contractions of the diaphragm, followed by a sudden tightening of the vocal cords, which cause the “hic” sound. They’re caused by “a large meal, alcoholic beverages or sudden excitement.”
But how to rid yourself of them? Let’s try a few current remedies, like the standard one of drinking water or tickling the roof of your mouth with a cotton swab. Both of these interrupt the hiccuping cycle, but I’d opt for the first, simply because there’s too much potential for embarrassment with the second!
My favorite was the suggestion that “sticking out your tongue and yanking on it may stop hiccups.” That’s not much better than having “colde water” cast in your face, and it’ll get you weird looks if you try it on the subway on your way to work.
Onomatopoeic words like hiccup and fizz are a lot of fun in general use, too.
In the heat of the candles on the dinner table, Milton’s new hair gel began to fizz. Across the table, Agnes couldn’t help herself and began to chortle loudly.
Start noticing onomatopoeic words in regular use – they’re everywhere, and definitely add zing to our everyday speech!