Learn English – Are there regional distinctions in how hiccup/hiccough is spelled


So I was a student of English was taught English right on the border between the US and Canada. My husband (who is from the Southwestern states) was reading something I wrote where I used the spelling hiccough and laughed at the spelling as he had not yet encountered it. I was wondering if there was any regionality behind how one spelling gets chosen over another in how the spelling is taught. I actually know and use both spellings (I don't know why I choose one over another in any particular circumstance).

To draw an analogy, all over BC Canada, you find "cheque" spelled as I show here. However, all over Washington State US, you find it spelled, "check." Pronunciation is the same. I'm just wondering if any one knows if there is a similarity in regard to hiccup/hiccough.

Best Answer

Hiccup is the elder of the two words but not by much. Regionalism doesn't dictate any difference in spelling and labeling either correct in an etymological sense is difficult.

hiccup (n.) 1570s, hickop, earlier hicket, hyckock, "a word meant to imitate the sound produced by the convulsion of the diaphragm" [Abram Smythe Farmer, "Folk-Etymology," London, 1882]. Cf. Fr. hoquet, Dan. hikke, etc. Modern spelling first recorded 1788; An Old English word for it was ælfsogoða, so called because hiccups were thought to be caused by elves.

hiccough 1620s, variant of hiccup (q.v.) by mistaken association with cough.

By etymological standards, both have "folk etymologies" although hiccup is the most correct. The earlier hyckock combined hyck (an onomatopoetic) with the diminutive suffix -ock. Compare that to hiccough which is derived from the same onomatopoetic "hic" sound and the mistaken combination of that with "cough." For this reason, hiccough could be called a piece of false folk etymology.

It is labeled "a mere error" by the OED. That, perhaps, says it all.

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