Clearing one's throat is a nice way to signal that special attention is needed. For example, two colleagues are making fun of their boss as she walks right by. She listens for a second and then ... clears her throat to say "I'm here".

  • Is there an onomatopoeia for that?
  • If not, how could that be expressed in writing?
  • Yes, but it's not onomatopoeic, except that ahem has two syllables, and there are usually two chest pulses in an attention-getting throat-clearing event. Apr 2, 2014 at 15:28
  • @JohnLawler... but isn't it the attempt that makes it onomatopoetic? I mean how good or bad it is is largely up to the person, considering that the onomatopoeia for a certain sound can vary quite a lot from language to language
    – Emanuel
    Apr 2, 2014 at 18:52
  • Onomatopoeia is an attempt to imitate the sound; there's very little of that with ahem; you could just as easily say cough, cough. Apr 2, 2014 at 20:08
  • 1
    @JohnLawler... so you're saying that "ahem" is not an attempt to imitate sound? What is it then? I think, it may not be a very successful o. but it is one all the same. As is "to cough" by the way
    – Emanuel
    Apr 2, 2014 at 20:55
  • OK, if you say so. I don't care, particularly; it just seemed like a particularly stylized imitation, is all. Apr 2, 2014 at 21:22

4 Answers 4



exclamation 1. used to represent the noise made when clearing the throat, typically to attract attention or express disapproval or embarrassment. "ahem, excuse me"


  • 1
    A question - an answer :) Good one
    – Fattie
    Apr 2, 2014 at 11:36


This is the first word I'd think of, and it's onomatopoeic.


In the immortal words of Dolores Umbridge:



Ahem is either but not both. If Ahem is said "I say, ahem, I say" it is an exclamation. This is equivalent to British "Hem hem!" If ahem replaces the sound of the clearing of the throat in a sentence, it is onomatopoeic.

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