So I was a student of English was taught English right on the border between the US and Canada. My husband (who is from the Southwestern states) was reading something I wrote where I used the spelling hiccough and laughed at the spelling as he had not yet encountered it. I was wondering if there was any regionality behind how one spelling gets chosen over another in how the spelling is taught. I actually know and use both spellings (I don't know why I choose one over another in any particular circumstance).

To draw an analogy, all over BC Canada, you find "cheque" spelled as I show here. However, all over Washington State US, you find it spelled, "check." Pronunciation is the same. I'm just wondering if any one knows if there is a similarity in regard to hiccup/hiccough.

  • 6
    More likely age, socioeconomic group, and education are the relevant variables, rather than region. Spelling is not part of language, but rather writing, and has to do with education, not with regional dialects. Pronunciation of /'hɪkəp/ may vary regionally, but spelling is entirely a function of primary education, which -- in the U.S.A, anyway, is locally autonomous and independent in curriculum. Nov 21, 2012 at 18:53
  • I may not be using the correct terminology, but I would equate it to the Canadian "Cheque" vs. US "Check" where I have encountered shifts in spelling based on culture and region of origin. Nov 21, 2012 at 18:59
  • I always presumed it was more akin to "aluminum" vs "aluminium" that is to say: a different word, but I see it asserted that they are pronounced the same (and the internet is always right).
    – horatio
    Nov 21, 2012 at 20:20
  • 2
    The -ough ending is pronounced in a lot of different ways, of which '-up' is probably the most outlandish. Nov 21, 2012 at 22:05
  • @ Edwin Ashworth agreed. Nov 22, 2012 at 2:35

4 Answers 4


Hiccup is the elder of the two words but not by much. Regionalism doesn't dictate any difference in spelling and labeling either correct in an etymological sense is difficult.

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; An Old English word for it was ælfsogoða, so called because hiccups were thought to be caused by elves.

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

By etymological standards, both have "folk etymologies" although hiccup is the most correct. The earlier hyckock combined hyck (an onomatopoetic) with the diminutive suffix -ock. Compare that to hiccough which is derived from the same onomatopoetic "hic" sound and the mistaken combination of that with "cough." For this reason, hiccough could be called a piece of false folk etymology.

It is labeled "a mere error" by the OED. That, perhaps, says it all.

  • 3
    Hey, the OED's not all bad. Nov 21, 2012 at 22:03

I think "hiccough" represents the written form, and that, in modern parliance, "hiccup", reflects the pronunciation, and has therefore migrated into orthography. Whether the "folk etymology" represents a historical confusion with "cough" or not, it seems that today, "hiccough" is the more formal written spelling. I remember encountering it first in published books, and wondering how it could be that that word was pronounced "hiccup". As "donut" slowly encroaches upon "doughnut" both in spelling and morphology (the former is underlined in this text box, but not in MS Word), I suspect that "hiccup", too, will replace "hiccough" as the historical and morphological context becomes less relevant, and as people have more access to informal written language.

  • 5
    Welcome to EL&U. What evidence can you present that hiccup is a modern spelling, when other answers indicate that it is in fact the older form?
    – choster
    Apr 16, 2014 at 14:37

The Canadian cheque is actually from the French chèque, and as far as I have been taught in the US in college, I only heard of hiccups and I had to Google hiccough, which is also unknown to my spell check... good luck with that!


I am British and we spell it as hiccough not hiccup. Hiccup is American spelling which is seemingly phonetic. The use of texting has encouraged a few people to use hiccup as it's quicker to write. We use cheque and colour and aeroplane, aesthetic, aluminium, we use s rather than z e.g. agonise, apologise, baptise etc; we use our rather than or e.g. ardour rather than ardor, labour rather than labor. Bannister rather than banister, behaviour rather than behavior. We consistently use double ll e.g. labelled rather than labeled and cancelled v canceled. Centre v center. Yoghurt or even yoghourt v yogurt. The list is endless. This has been quite difficult to type as the site keeps correcting the American spellings to British versions. The different use of words is also interesting. In the UK we walk on the pavement (sidewalk) and drive on the road.

  • 1
    Hi and welcome. Your answer starts on-topic and then gets a little too broad into AmE vs BrE. You might want to edit it back a little, and bear in mind that English in any location has a wide variation and is always changing.
    – Joffan
    Feb 5, 2015 at 17:39
  • I am English. I spell it “hiccup”, and am sad to discover today that “hiccough” is not a portmanteau but an “alternative spelling”. What a waste!
    – mwfearnley
    Jun 2, 2019 at 7:54
  • Not really correct: tylerharms's answer explains the actual origins. The spelling "hiccup" is older, and was originally English not American (seeing as it dates from 1570ish). "Hiccough" is a later variation.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 12, 2023 at 16:10

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