Word Wednesday – through with the cough

Image courtesy of iTalki.com

I had big plans for a bunch of posts right around this time last week. Then I got hit hard with a virus that is going around. It started off with me being really tired, but since I’ve been on the verge of exhaustion for the last few weeks, I didn’t really notice. Phase II resembled a gastro bug. Unpleasant for sure but I figured they’re usually really short lived so rest for the weekend and I’d be good as new Monday. Not so much. Monday brought phase III – the cold of doom. My nose is either stuffed up or running like a faucet, my head is pounding, my sinuses ache, and then there’s the cough. I had a month long cough after Blissdom in October – heck I even lost my voice the day before I was supposed to present.  I figured I’d paid my dues, but the universe has other plans. It’s not too bad in the day time, apart from the occasional coughing fit that leaves me winded. At night though, I sound like a lost seal barking for her rookery (or pod, or colony – the internet gods were a little indecisive on this).

The cough is keeping me up at night, which is having a decided impact on my ability to string coherent sentences together. I’m also not kicking this virus very quickly so the thought of waiting until I feel better to post was making me worry that it’d be 2016 before I wrote here again. So, I decided to suck it up and put together a Word Wednesday post. Inspired by a post I saw on the Grammarly Facebook Page and my current predicament, I bring you “Word Wednesday: getting through a cough – hey why don’t those words rhyme?”. One of the things that popped into my mind around 3 AM as I was coughing (again) was why is ‘ough’ such a weird letter combination. I can think of 8 different ways that the four letters can be pronounced in a word. EIGHT.  Two or three, sure, but eight? Insane.

It’s true though. In ‘thought’ there’s an ‘aw’ sound, in ‘though’ it’s ‘oe’ – though, in ‘cough’ it’s more of an ‘off’ sound, which is similar but not identical to the sound at the end of ‘rough’ – ‘uff’, ‘bough’ ends with ‘ow’, and ‘through’ is the always fun ‘oo’. Those are the main six. The other two are less frequent but are used enough that they bear mentioning. ‘Scarborough’ ends with an ‘erow’ sound and the weirdest example of all – ‘hiccough’ has an ‘up’ sound at the end due to popular pronunciation. Is it any wonder people learning English as a second (or third.. or even first) language have issues when it comes to spelling words ending in ‘ough’? If my head wasn’t already spinning, this would do it.

Image courtesy of iTalki.com
                                       Image courtesy of iTalki.com

Now that we’ve figured out how to pronounce all the ‘ough’ variants, may I present today’s Word Wednesday word: sick. Ha. I bet you thought it was going to be an ‘ough’ word like cough. I was kind of leading you that way wasn’t I?  Okay, two for one deal time. I’ll present two words and their origins simply because I’m nice.

Interestingly, at least to me, sick is an older word than cough – dating from before the year 900 AD. Sick comes from the Middle English word sik or sek, which in turn comes from the Old English sēoc; sēoc is cognate with Dutch: ziek, German: siech, Old Norse: sjūkr, and Gothic: siuks (Source: Dictionary.com). I find it interesting that so many languages have a similar sounding word for sick and they all rhyme (mostly) with ick which describes how I feel right about now. 

Cough, on the other hand, dates from around 1275 AD – Middle English form was coghen (note the ‘gh’ which was pronounced similarly to the Scottish ‘ch’ as in ‘loch’ ), which came from the Old English word cohhian which comes from the Germanic keuchen which means to wheeze. 

So there you have it, cough and sick – two Word Wednesday words for a week when I’ve been down for the count.

Sick (sik) Adjective

  1. Afflicted with ill health or disease; ailing.
  2. Feeling nauseous and wanting to vomit.
  3. Intensely annoyed with or bored by (someone or something) as a result of having had too much of them.

Cough (kof) Verb

  1. To expel air from the lungs with a sudden sharp sound


  1. An act or sound of coughing.
  2. A condition of the respiratory organs causing coughing.

By koalateagirl

Jenn Annis is a writer, editor, historian, special needs advocate, and tireless defender of the Oxford comma. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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