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What happened to the hiccups?

Watching Sleepless in Seattle the other day, and at one point the cute kid in the movie gets into a conversation about hiccups, everybody has their own cure for the hiccups, etc.

And it got me thinking: What ever happened to the hiccups? When I was a kid, the hiccups occupied a big part of our mental state. We got the hiccups often enough, and people were always talking about how to cure it. Hold your breath, drink a glass of water slowly, whatever. Once my sister had the hiccups and my dad snuck up behind her and scared her. The hiccups went away but my sister made my dad promise never to scare her again like that. And he never did.

Anyway . . . nowadays we don’t hear so much about the hiccups. Nobody ever seems to get them. What’s up with that?

Here’s a partial list of things that used to occupy lots of kids’ brain real estate but doesn’t seem to anymore:

Bee stings

On the other hand, some things that were big when we were kids are still big. I’m thinking of superheroes.

I don’t know where the hiccups went. I guess video games are so huge now, that some other topics had to go away. After all, there are only 24 hours in the day. On the medical front, we now have things like nut allergy and autism which nobody ever thought about and now are huge. I remember as a kid watching a 60 Minutes segment, I think it was, on this mysterious condition called autism, and I was like, wow, what’s that? Nowadays autism is just part of the conversation. But hiccups aren’t.

Somebody should study this.

OK, here’s the Google N-gram:

So according to this source, hiccups are bigger than ever. But I don’t buy it. I think any recent increase is just authors remembering hiccups from their childhood.


  1. Joel says:

    My kid gets hiccups not infrequently. She typically demands that I scare them out of her.

    (She also got stung by a bee once.)

  2. jd says:

    If you grew up in the South, there are a variety of other additions to the skunk and bee sting categories that occupied one’s mind when playing outdoors – chiggers (watch out for bermuda grass and tall weeds); poison-oak and ivy; yellow-jackets, hornets (sometimes out of holes in the ground), wasps, and the like (stung every summer by at least one of the aforementioned); spiky stinging caterpillars (yes, twice); rattlesnakes; copperheads; fire ants (noticeable if standing in one place more than a 5 seconds); red ants…

  3. Also occupying a large amount of childhood mental real estate back in the day, but no longer: quicksand. I used to be terrified of that stuff.

    • Adede says:

      Yep. At this point, I’m not even sure quicksand is real.

      • I essentially did my PhD on quicksand…. well soil liquefaction, which is basically the same thing. It’s real, but essentially all of the explanations for soil liquefaction in the Civil Engineering world were false. They relied on textbook descriptions that had been around since the 60’s: water travels very slowly through soil, and can’t drain out of a region during an earthquake, so as connections between sand particles are lost during shaking, the stress is transferred to the water… some garbage like that.

        In fact, because water has a HUGE bulk modulus, the slightest quantity of water moving into or out of a volume changes the pressure of the water dramatically. Diffusion of pressure over 10 meters through sand takes place on timescales of 1/10 of a second, so earthquakes which have most of their energy around 1Hz, are actually *slow* and can be considered essentially static equilibrium. Soil liquefaction occurs because water flows into a region faster than it can flow out, because permeability is not a constant, or in other circumstances it occurs because as water flows through the sand it drags on the particles and lifts them against gravity. It’s this case, where water flow drag counterbalances gravitational forces that leads to “fluidization” of sand..

        Here are a bunch of examples of soil liquefaction

        And here is the more extreme fluidization, using air as the fluid:

        • John Williams says:

          I agree that quicksand is real, but you don’t hear about people drowning in it any more, maybe because most people now know how to swim. The old cemetery in the very small town where I live gives drowning in quicksand as the cause of death for a couple of people in the late 1800s. Drowning in the river was more common.

        • jim says:

          Wow! I’m going to build one of those sand tanks! That’s *FREAKIN’ COOL*!! thanks for posting that!

          But I don’t know if I totally understand or buy your explanation of liquefaction. The sand tank seems to function in the exact same way that you say is a myth: floating the sand particles so they don’t touch; or so even the slightest force against touching particles allows air to force them apart.

      • LemmusLemmus says:

        Quicksand played a large role in movies that were shown on afternoon TV when I was a kid (in Germany, but many of the movies may have been American). I guess they don’t show those movies anoymore.

    • Al says:

      Daniel Engber has an interesting article on this issue. It includes the line: “If you really want to understand quicksand—if you’re looking for some way to gauge its rise and fall in American culture—then the fetish community is the place to start.”

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Yes — when I was a kid, bee stings were big in my mental real estate (I got stung in the nose smelling a rose in my grandmother’s back yard when I was around 4), but especially after television came on the scene, quicksand was the really scary thing. (Actually, polio might have been the most scary thing. And then there was the admonition not to get in a car with a strange man. I was afraid of crossing a street when someone in a car beckoned me to do so; I thought they might be wanting to run me over.)

    • Rheophile says:

      For the people who haven’t heard the John Mulaney bit on this –

  4. You know what really took up a lot of childhood and doesn’t anymore? earaches. Two factors here, 1 is the massive crash in smoking, and the other is the pneumococcal vaccine.

    So I’m going to blame hiccups on smoking as well.

  5. Adede says:

    What happened to skunks in the 50s?

  6. Johnathan Corgan says:

    Bigfoot, Lochness Monster, UFOs, chicken pox, not eating 30 minutes before swimming, razor blades in candy apples, Ouija boards, alien abduction…

  7. Madeleine says:

    Maybe one of the hiccup cures worked, and we don’t talk about them for the same reason we don’t talk about tuberculosis.

  8. Guy Srinivasan says:

    Some sort of weird bubble. For me and my house, hiccups are an ongoing “concern”.

  9. Oncodoc says:

    Interesting to see a posting with a graph that directly contradicts the poster.
    I used to worry about Friday the Thirteenth, but I guess I have quit mourning the passing of Walt Kelly.

  10. I would guess that hiccups simply fall into the category of things kids think about much more than adults do, so it’s not an issue of changing public interests but of (your) age. Aren’t you the one often saying we should account for demographics?

    By the way: the Ngram graphs for hiccup and the folk-etymological hiccough are almost opposites. Model that!

  11. It could also be that there’s a lot more scientific and social-science writing about hiccups than there was before. According to Sarah Zhang’s WIRED article “The Pitfalls of Using Google Ngram to Study Language,” the increasing proportion of scientific literature over time can affect the results:

    “If scientific publications are taking up more and more of the the corpus, certain non-scientific terms may appear to fall in relative popularity. For example, are writers less interested in writing about “autumn” or are there just simply more scientific papers totally unrelated to “autumn” crowding the corpus?”

    By the same token, words likely to be found in scientific publications may thus appear more popular than they actually are. If you google “psychology of hiccups,” you’ll find a lot of recent stuff; this doesn’t mean that hiccups themselves are of increasing public concern.

  12. K Cummins says:

    This does not fit in with my lived experience. I just got over 3 days AND NIGHTS of hiccups that coincided with a lower respiratory infection.

  13. I think this is selection bias, pure and simple: you are no longer a kid, or spend lots of time around kids, and kids get hiccups more than adults. (Cite: “Hiccups are only found in mammals, and are most common in infants, becoming rarer as mammals age.” from

  14. Here are some cross-cultural data for you.

    I spend my childhood (Russian province, 1990s) thinking about hiccups all the time. And I never heard about them again. In fact I had to use a dictionary to get what “hiccups” mean.

  15. GMcK says:

    I don’t have quotable data handy, and my impression is that what data exists is less than definitive. Nevertheless here are my opinions.

    Beestings and skunks are down because kids are not allowed to play outside in fields and forests where they could encounter bees and skunks anymore. I blame helicopter parents more than video games. Contrariwise, my favorite podcast host had to cancel a segment this week because her dogs were skunked, inside the Oakland city limits, even.

    Beestings are down even more because there are fewer bees, due to habitat destruction , e.g. fewer wildflowers, and apparently neonicotinoid pesticides. The recent generation of antihistamines make beestings much less painful if they’re administered quickly after being stung, which reduces mmemorability & reported frequency.

    I have no ideas about hiccups.

  16. Terry says:


    Hardly anyone gets conked on the coconut and forgets who they are anymore.

    Probably due to the discovery of a sure fire cure, another conk on the coconut. See Gilligan et al. 1969.

  17. zbicyclist says:

    Local experience varies.

    My grandkids got hiccups very often when they were younger, and still get them occasionally.

    There’s a large hornet nest in the burr oak in their front yard, so we have had extensive discussions on hornets and bees. They have NOT shot Nerf guns at the hornet nest. … at least, not yet.

    Skunks are everywhere here. It’s very common to get near one on walks at night, and smelling their odor is even more common. I suspect that’s from encounters with their main predator, the automobile. Our local village even has helps with the trapping fees.

    (It’s hard to imagine skunks causing much damage. They eat mostly grubs, and the alternative grub control — lawn chemicals — probably causes more environmental harm than skunks can dream about, although there’s little solid research on skunk dreams.)

    (Another possible positive effect of skunks is that dog owners are pretty good about keeping their dogs on leash around here, something I appreciate as a cyclist.)

    • Terry says:

      Fun fact. Skunks have only two predators: the great horned owl, and coyotes. The great horned owl hunts by sound, not smell, so it’s smelling skills are poor and it doesn’t mind if it can’t smell anything for a while. Coyotes smell well, but just don’t care … at least when they are hungry.

      We have a lot of skunks too, and I don’t understand why we don’t have a lot of great horned owls. Skunks are such easy targets for owls that I would think it would be an all-you-can-eat buffet for them.

  18. Justin says:

    Does skunk refer to the animal or to pot though?


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