Sometimes when a grumpy old man gets annoyed, he makes noises like clearing his throat. Does grumbling or grunting define that action? Is there a more appropriate word or an idiom for that?

  • 2
    Ahem. We say "grumpy old man" since judgments usually come first in a string of adjectives. Beautiful green dress versus green beautiful dress. – TRomano Apr 23 '15 at 20:57
  • You'd have to ask my wife what she calls what I'm doing just before she elbows me in the ribs. – Hot Licks Apr 24 '15 at 1:41
  • 1
    Does this question need to be ageist and sexist? "Harrumphing" isn't limited to either group... – Michael Apr 24 '15 at 8:12
  • @TimRomano Do you have a source for that? I never considered why that is the way it is. Very interesting. – thumbtackthief Apr 24 '15 at 15:47

Sometimes when a grumpy old man gets annoyed, he makes noises like clearing his throat. Does grumbling or grunting define that action?


  • definitely not. That consists of complaining words, it is not a sound.


  • close, but that isn't it. Grunt doesn't include throat-clearing, and it is an inhalation.

Is there a more appropriate word or an idiom for that?



  • Done properly, it is deep in the throat.

  • The best growl is accomplished with the mouth closed, as a harsh exhalation, through the nose only. No work is done in the nose, all the work is in the lower throat, vibrating it. The deeper the better.

  • A poor growl is high in the throat, see harrumph below.

  • A growl is a purposeful act, not due to accident or sickness.

  • Young men used to be able to do it.


  • is high in the throat, and can be accomplished almost completely in the nose and mouth, that is, without involving the throat. The best grunt is actually a heavy inhalation, with the nostrils and the back of the mouth loose, so that it vibrates with the air flow.

  • Animals grunt and growl.


  • is close, but distinctly different, it doesn't have that full throat-clearing sound that men can make, from deep in their throats.

  • I would describe harrumph as an amateur or beginner growl. It is more of a sound of displeasure, whereas growl is a serious threat.


  • has a proper meaning, the sound a person makes when they have emphysema, or when their windpipe is opened by some horrible injury.

  • It is accomplished as an inhalation, a strained one, with the throat contracted, or closed with a hole somewhere that is open. It causes alarm.

  • Men who can growl on demand can usually wheeze on demand, and it is just as scary to women and children, but for different reasons, a growl being a threat and wheeze being an alarm.

  • For others, the wheeze is involuntary, due to accident or sickness.

I know one woman who, after she got past the fear of my purposeful wheeze, wanted to learn how to do it. Now she can wheeze much higher than I can, women's voices being higher, and all that. But she can't growl, much as she tried.

Don't concern yourself with what writers write, they are making a royal mess of the English language. They are hardly an authority, and they commonly misuse words. And that is separate to the use of the literary device: the purposeful use of incorrect words, to connote something.


harrumph /həˈrʌmf/ verb; gerund or present participle: harrumphing

  1. clear the throat noisily
    • grumpily express dissatisfaction or disapproval.
      "skeptics tend to harrumph at case histories like this"

He harrumphed and said, ‘I am deeply obliged’.

(from Google)

  • 7
    "Hey, I didn't get a harrumph out of that guy." According to Blazing Saddles it's an agreement made in dissent. – Mazura Apr 23 '15 at 17:20
  • You don't have to be old to harrumph but for lack of a better word, I've abstained. – Mazura Apr 23 '15 at 20:09
  • @Mazura I don't think anything about this question is limited only to old men, just that it's stereotypically associated with them. – Barmar Apr 27 '15 at 20:26

One possibility:

wheezed his annoyance

transitive verb : to utter with a sound of wheezing [breathe with difficulty with a usually audible sibilant or whistling sound ]

In Darkness Waiting John Shirley - 2013

The old man wheezed his amusement. He shifted to accommodate his bags. “You think you workfor yourself, huh?

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