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Is there a historical or grammatical reason for spelling hiccup with two c's?

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Chambers says "an earlier form was hicket". Perhaps the fact that it's often spelt hiccough (same word, pronounced the same) was instrumental in encouraging the adoption/retention of "cc" instead of "ck". –  FumbleFingers Jan 27 '12 at 18:07
    
My husband was just making fun of me the other day for having spelled it hiccough! Then, now, on a spelling scavenger hunt I have found this nifty little resource. Thanks for asking the question. –  balanced mama Nov 21 '12 at 18:24

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Etymonline.com gives earlier spellings and foreign spellings:

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

And:

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

So before standardisation of English spelling (orthography), the onomatopoeic hiccup had many variations. We can see some of these in the 1831 A critical review of the orthography of Dr. Webster's Series of Books for Systematick Instruction in the English Language.

And from the Sesquiotica words, words, words blog:

So anyway, this irritating thing produces a sound. Want to name it? Imitate the sound. For the most part, Western European languages don’t have a glottal stop as a separate phoneme, and certainly not a strong enough one to do the job here – uh-uh – so a /k/ will do, and /h/ for the sharp intake before it. Dutch has hik, as does Danish; Swedish has hicka; Breton has hok; French has hoquet and Latin has hoquetus; and English had, first, hicket and hickock (with various spellings, including hitchcock) and shortly thereafter hiccup, which from the 16th to 19th centuries showed a variety of alternative spellings: hicke up, hikup, hickop, hickhop, hecup, hiccop, hickup, hick-up

And somewhere in the 1600s, someone apparently got the idea that this word had come in part from cough. This was a time when words were being respelled by some people on the basis of their origins (real or false), which is how we got such weird messes as debt, people, and island (see “What’s up with English spelling”). Sometimes the pronunciation changed, as with falcon (formerly faucon). But in the case of hiccough, the spelling was simply changed to reflect what was mistakenly thought to be its origin, but the pronunciation was kept the same.

As FumbleFingers suggested in a comment, it's a fair guess that after the ck had been lost to hiccough (due to a mistaken hic + cough) back in the early 1600s, the cc stuck around for the modern hiccup spelling of the late 1700s.

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A general rule of English pronunciation is that if a vowel is followed by two consonants, the vowel is long; if it's followed by a single consontant, the vowel is short. So "hicup" would be pronounced with a long "i". The double-c makes it a short "i".

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But the typical way to indicate this is with a ck, not a cc. So the question, it seems to me, is not asking about a double consonant in general, but the double c in particular. –  Brett Reynolds Jan 28 '12 at 17:07
    
@BrettReynolds: Probably because the earlier spellings included ck, and then an alternate and intermediate re-spelling of hiccough on the mistaken belief it's from cough. See my answer. –  Hugo Jan 29 '12 at 20:39

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