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
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 5:27
  • 1
    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. Commented Oct 7, 2013 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
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 0:04
  • @Mitch Hawk is the original word; your hock is an alteration, cot-caught merger or not.
    – Angelos
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 0:02

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 1
    This seems to be a repeat answer.
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 14:37
  • @Tom: But it has more information and makes a different recommendation.
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 2:39
  • 1
    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
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 14:02
  • 5
    @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. Commented Oct 10, 2013 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. Commented Oct 10, 2013 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.

  • Ahem is essentially an interjection/ exclamation. To verbify that may be acceptable but not desirable. Hawk is mere onomatopoeia as is ahem.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 6:33
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    @Kris: Mere is too dismissive. Onomatopoeia may not be so formal, but it is evocative!
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 7:09

It sounds a little 19th-century, but I do like to harrumph. It's the sound of clearing one's throat, although not necessarily to gather mucus.



what about "hork" or "horking" which means clearing your throat, too?

  • 1
    Please provide some evidence for the use of this word. Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 23:27
  • 1
    I think you mean hawking , which might not be a bad answer if you provided some support. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 14:40

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