I collected this piece of folk medicine from my mother (LP) during a particularly infuriating bout of the hiccups. She grew up in suburban Colorado in the late 20th century and learned these tricks from her parents. She has “had success with all of them” but wonders “if it is psychosomatic, like you think it’s going to work so it does.”
LP: you’re supposed to drink water like this (mimes drinking water upside-down), drinking from the back of the rim. You can also hold your breath, or eat a spoonful of sugar. And being scared, startled, when someone says BOO!
With no surefire medical consensus on how to deal with hiccups, people have often resorted to folk remedies that sometimes seem farfetched. The hiccups (Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutter) are a quite harmless and normal biological event. They often happen after eating fast or drinking carbonated beverages and amount to little more than an inconvenience, and since they often pass within minutes, it is not common to seek professional medical help to remedy them. Nevertheless, they are annoying, and we feel like we must do something to address them. In a brief experiment, I tested all the methods my mom mentioned: the upside-down drinking and the sugar had no effect. My mom even sat down to startle me, and while I was indeed startled, I continued to hiccup moments after. Ultimately, holding my breath, after multiple tries, worked to alleviate my hiccups. I believe that my informant’s thought on the matter, that these remedies are mostly forms of placebo, is convincing. All of these different techniques require you to do something unusual, something that takes concentration or stimulates the senses in a startling way. These remedies can distract someone, often to the effect of clearing the hiccups away. Since the remedies that doctors offer are often unsatisfactory, people have created a long list of folk remedies that employ the placebo effect to address this annoyance.