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A lot of people, especially those with a throat infection, make an oft irritating guttural noise to clear their throat. What is the act called?

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It's called clearing your throat. –  Jim Oct 7 '13 at 5:27
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In swedish, we have a single word for it (harkla), but when translating that it only gives clears his throat (Translate). I don't think there is a word with the same description and a single word but still covering all cases. –  Robin Castlin Oct 7 '13 at 8:50
    
What's up with 'hawk' as the unmarked word? 'hock' is all I've ever known. Does everyone here have the cot-caught merger? or is it just an eggcorn? –  Mitch Oct 11 '13 at 0:04

4 Answers 4

Harrumph: Verb - clear the throat noisily.

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Historically, hawk (also hock) meant to clear the throat in the general sense. Now it refers to gathering phlegm for spitting, by a progressive closing of the tongue against the back of the throat, accompanied by an outrush of air, a rising pitch, and vocalisation.

Retch also meant to clear the throat or cough up, from the Old English verb hræcan, to cough up or spit phlegm (hraca). Now it refers to the sound and motion of vomiting, either gagging or dry-heaving, often with a falling guttural sound.

So while we have had two good strong English one-syllable verbs to express what you mean, they’ve both drifted into new roles. In the present, I think ahem is the best verb we’ve got:

My coworker Bill is just getting over a throat infection and was ahemming all day. Better than last week, when he would hawk loogies into his handkerchief.

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This seems to be a repeat answer. –  Tom Oct 7 '13 at 14:37
    
@Tom: But it has more information and makes a different recommendation. –  Jon Purdy Oct 8 '13 at 2:39
    
If you have the exact same answer as someone else, the point of stack is to improve their answer. However I have to read through yours to find out that I have already read that answer (actually answers since you took two words). –  Tom Oct 8 '13 at 14:02
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@Tom Editing the other post to include Jon's additional information would be far too radical of a change. Just because two answers include some information in common doesn't mean they're duplicates. –  Bradd Szonye Oct 10 '13 at 4:16
    
@Tom Please also see Etiquette for simultaneous duplicate answers on Meta. Usual ELU practice for cases like this is to allow similar answers to stand on their own merits, and critical comments interfere with that. Please flag a moderator instead if you think two answers are too similar. –  Bradd Szonye Oct 10 '13 at 23:34

If you are clearing your throat to draw attention I would use ahem (hem). If you are clearing your throat to get rid of mucus I would use hawk.

You would hawk a loogie. And if you had no manners you would say, "ahem" to get everyone's attention before hand.

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Ahem is essentially an interjection/ exclamation. To verbify that may be acceptable but not desirable. Hawk is mere onomatopoeia as is ahem. –  Kris Oct 7 '13 at 6:33
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@Kris: Mere is too dismissive. Onomatopoeia may not be so formal, but it is evocative! –  Jon Purdy Oct 7 '13 at 7:09

I think 'hacking' is a common term for clearing the throat. I have heard 'hock' used but never 'hawk'. Please, Hawk, being our fine feathered friends, is already well defined, can we leave it that way? Can Americans leave any word alone. Do we have to try and destroy every word at every opportunity?! Hawks are beautiful and they soar majestically. Loogies are ugly and they drop like a stone.

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Hacking does not mean clearing your throat to me, but giving little, dry, rasping coughs. Or indeed (since we’re on the topic of hawks) to train a young hawk. Most of this answer is pure peeving, though, which is off-topic here. Words have multiple meanings, and they always have had. Using ‘hawk’ as synonymous with ‘hock’ in no way reduces the beauty of the avian hawks. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 29 '13 at 11:40

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