Preceded by the French form hoquet, “hiccup” was originally spelled hiquet, hicket, hickot, hickock, or even hitchcock (unrelated to the surname Hitchcock, which simply means “little Richard”).
By the late 16th century “hiccup” was the established spelling, but because it was also known as a drunken man’s cough, in the 17th century it became “hiccough”, pronounced “hiccup.” In his dictionary Samuel Johnson incorrectly wrote that “hickup” was a corrupted form of “hiccough”.
Yesk, or by metathesis yex, to sob or hiccup, belch or expectorate, came from the Latin oscitare, to gape, but may also have been imitative of the sound of hiccups.
In , Chaucer’s miller tells a scurrilous tale about a carpenter.
In many cases the second letter is an l or an r (16% and 8% of the total respectively), also over-represented. The initial letters suggest flying and fluttering, and the ending suggests the sound that results.
Flush originally meant to fly up quickly and suddenly, wings aflutter.
We hear the flush when we flush a toilet, and the rush of blood to face and neck, called a hot flush in the UK and a hot flash in the USA, is also onomatopoeic, even though we can’t hear it.
Flying, fluttering, fluidity, fluctuation, flatus, the bloody flux, and flushing are all connected with flow (Latin fluxus).Galloping is probably something to do with leaping and loping, but it may also have been influenced by the sound of horses’ hooves.In revenge, the reeve, a carpenter himself, tells a tale about a drunken miller, who yexes and speaks through his nose; or, as Neville Coghill’s version has it, “hiccupping through his nose he talked and trolled/As if he’d asthma or a heavy cold.” Around 700 words are described in the are over-represented (60% compared with 23% of the complete lexicon).Examples include buzz, fizz, glug, jabber, tick-tock, and whinny, like Gulliver’s houyhnhnms.
Seeking early medical words in the Old English dictionary known as the Epinal glossary, I was not surprised to find that one of the dozen examples I unearthed was onomatopoeic: iesca (yesk or yex, a sob, a hiccup, or the hiccups).Perhaps I should have been surprised that there weren’t more; after all, some early words in all languages must have been onomatopoeic, imitating local sounds, typically those of birds, like chickadee, cuckoo, owl, and peewit.