Fictional Hiccups, as I use them

Over on the forum there was an interesting question from CBigbee, which I answered there, but am duplicating here because links aren’t showing up over there properly.

The question:

First, I read the Wilderness series a few years back.  When I completed the final book I thought that I could never read another book again….So sad to see it end.  When I started Gilded Hour it took me a while to catch on to the connections back to Wilderness, and I was delighted! My burning (& odd) question is about hiccups.  I remember them from Wilderness.  Please help me understand what those are.  Do they sound like an actual hiccup, as in when one has the hiccups?  Because that doesn’t seem to work for me.  Is it a gasp?  What are those hiccups?  You are a brilliant writer and your novels complete me!

My answer:

Hi CBigbee —

First, thanks for stopping by.

When I use ‘hiccup’ metaphorically I’m thinking of the way people pull in a short breath in a noisy way. It’s heard a lot in European languages (Scandinavians tend to think of it as a feature of their languages alone, but it’s heard in languages across the world). You’ll hear it a lot of Scots English and less in American English, where you’ll most likely hear it as a sound of surprise.

Technically, in linguistics, this is called ingressive phonation. That sounds weird, but once you hear it you’ll know what I’m talking about. And thanks to the magic of the internet, you can hear it, right now, if you care to.

Eklund JIPA 2008 Figure 7b
Eklund JIPA 2008 Figure 7b

There’s an article on Wikipedia with a pretty good description of an inhaled affirmative, including a sound file. There is also a very technical website by Robert Eklund, here. Probably most useful from Eklund’s site is this sound file (and if you’re really interested, the corresponding spectogram, seen here.1 You will have to turn the sound on your computer way up and listen to it more than once, but the speaker of Scots English starts out the short sentence with what I have called a ‘hiccup’ sound to describe this phenomenon when I’m writing fiction.

See what happens when you hit my linguistics button? I miss teaching.


  1. This is phonetics, a branch of linguistics. Phoneticians (Robert Eklund, for example) study  the production of human speech sounds.