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.
The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.
Interviewer: So you’ve obviously had the hiccups at one point or another in your life… Do you have a special method of getting rid of them?
Informant: Oh I’ve heard a bunch of things. Like, get scared is a pretty big one that people say but like i’ve never seen it work. I’ve also heard of drinking a glass of water upside down but I’d rather just have the hiccups for 5 minutes than go through the effort of doing that haha
Interviewer: Yeah I’ve heard about the getting scared and drinking water upside down tactics too from some elementary school friends. So if that doesn’t really work, what do you do?
Informant: Well I forgot who actually told me this, it could have been my mom, but any time i get the hiccups i just take as deep of a breath as I can and then hold it in for as long as possible… and if you hiccup again you just start over until they’re gone… and that tends to do the trick for me haha
My Informant was born and raised in Southern California. Her parents immigrated from Europe and she is a first Generation American. She is a model and an artist and has exceedingly liberal views.
I talked to my informant over a facetime video-call during the 2020 Coronavirus epidemic. We had plans to meet in person, however, the quarantine made that impossible.
It’s crazy how many different stories there are that are promised to “cure” the hiccups. I would be interested in a scientific study which tests which methods actually work (If any) and which methods are completely made up. Either way, it seems like hiccup cures are generated more within a family or smaller social group than throughout an entire society since there are not only so many different ideas, but they all vary so widely from one another as well so it seems like they were not derived from one another.
This piece was collected over a casual FaceTime in which we were previously just catching up and talking about our elementary school experiences. We are close friends who met in high school and have known each other for five years. My informant (JS) was born in California and is now attending Carnegie Mellon as Computer Science major. He enjoys coding, playing video games, and weight lifting.
The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (JS) and interviewer.
Interviewer: So what’s your hiccup cure?
JS: I have a few. There are the common ones, like holding your breath or scaring the hiccups away, but I like the spoon in water one the best.
Interviewer: Wait tell me more about that one.
JS: So when you have hiccups, to get rid of them, you have to put a metal spoon inside a glass of water and drink it. That’ll get rid of the hiccups really fast. My third grade teacher told this to our class and we had the “hiccup cup” in the back of the classroom. I still use this trick today if I really can’t get rid of my hiccups.
I have heard of this method before and I’m sure it is just as effective as other hiccup home-remedies, like holding your breath, biting a lemon, or eating a spoon of peanut butter. In the end, I think these are just placebo remedies meant to calm children down and feel more in control of a situation.