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Hiccups-art - 5/17/17


"Medieval oddities: Hiccups" by Lady Catherine Ambrose.


NOTE: See also the files: aphrodisiacs-msg, perfumes-msg, shaving-msg, Handcream-art, bruise-cream-msg, Indian-KumKum-art, Medvl-Pills-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This article was first published in the November 2012 issue of the Middlebridge "The Key".


Medieval oddities: Hiccups

by Lady Catherine Ambrose


Hiccups have always been a source of amusement, right? Wrong.


In this day and age, we know what causes people to have hiccups – an involuntarily spasming diaphragm. In the middle ages, however, hiccups were not viewed so benignly. The word ‘hiccup’ comes from as early as 1580, from the French term le hoquet, while the modern spelling was not used until 1788.[1] [2]


In the middle ages and earlier, especially in superstitious communities, hiccups were often seen as less of a physical ailment and more of a sign that someone was wrong with one’s immortal soul. In fact, the old English word for hiccups was ælfsogo›a —meaning that they were caused by elves. The sure sign of a changeling, among other symptoms such as being put off food and heartburn, was hiccups. You may understand then why the English took hiccups so seriously. [3] In this case, the cure tended to be little charms and chants, at least among those who believed in charms:


Hickup, hickup, go away

Come again another day :

Hickup, hickup, when I bake

I’ll give to you a butter-cake




Hickup, snickup,

Rise up, rise up,

Three drops in a cup

Are good for the hickup

Bend over and sip three drops from the far side of the cup [4]


The English were not the only ones to have their thoughts on the matter. Every culture and society had its own remedies and knowledge on the matter, and some cultures took them more seriously than others. Pre-Petrine Russians – that is, Russians that existed before Peter the Great – believed hiccups to be a sure sign that one had been cursed. Special spells were in place for just such an occasion, and it was common for witchcraft to be involved in the curing of these hiccups. [5]


Folk cures were just as common then as they were today, although in the case of the middle ages the cures were seen to be more of a necessity. Today’s practices of drinking water upside-down and holding one’s breath are nothing compared to the lengths that medieval people would go to in order to rid themselves of the hiccups.


Witchcraft was only one of the cures. Hand and bodily gestures, as well as certain sounds, were commonly used to rid one of hiccups in Germany, much like the Evil Eye was thought to cause them. Because some thought that gestures dealt with specific parts of the air and body, and hiccups were associated with the lungs and air, this was one of the more common folk cures of the day. [6]


Hiccups were not always seen as a problem of the soul – or of a religious nature. One of the earliest mentions of hiccups comes from an eastern European medical manuscript. Here it is dealt with as a medical issue. [7] Published in the 16th Century, a medical manuscript on skull fractures also mentions hiccups as one of the symptoms of a broken skull, often accompanying a black tongue and fever. Da Carpi wrote, “Sometimes blood issues from beneath the bones, originating from some vein in the injured membrane, and there appears a blackness of the tongue and hiccups, which is a very bad sign…”[8] Even when looked at scientifically, hiccups tended not to be seen as benign.


Although we know them to be mostly harmless now (with a few rare but extreme cases), many communities in the middle ages did not see them as such. Without science to prove otherwise for many years to come, hiccups (like any other ailment) fell under the category of mysterious and unexplained.



[1]Oxford English Dictionary


[2]Online Etymology Dictionary


[3] Oates, Caroline. Cheese Gives You Nightmares: Old Hags and Heartburn. Folklore , Vol. 114, No. 2 (Aug., 2003), pp. 205-225


[4] Forbes, Thomas R. Verbal Charms in British Folk Medicine. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society , Vol. 115, No. 4 (Aug. 20, 1971), pp. 306


[5] Zguta, Russell. Witchcraft and Medicine in Pre-Petrine Russia. Russian Review , Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct., 1978), pp. 438-448


[6] Fischer, Herbert, and Joyce Adams. The Use of Gesture in Preparing Medicaments and in Healing. History of Religions, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Summer, 1965), pp. 18-53


[7] Tuite, Kevin. Agentless Transitive Verbs in Georgian. Anthropological Linguistics , Vol. 51, No. 3/4 (FALL AND WINTER 2009), pp. 269-295


[8] Lind, L.R. [trans.] and Berengario da Carpi. Berengario da Carpi on Fracture of the Skull or Cranium. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society , New Series, Vol. 80, No. 4 (1990), pp. i-xxvi+1-164


Copyright 2012 by Elizabeth Nicholls, 900 Stockwood Court, High Point, NC 27265. <catherine.ambrose85 at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org