Consider this fictional situation which I made up to let you feel the sense:

Brad and Brett was chatting about recent thefts where cheats were making hoax and decieved the victims. While Brett was talking about a particular case of this kind of theft, Brad remembered he himself was duped in a similar way and almost went to tell Brett but swallowed his word thinking Brett might use this fact against him later in future to mock him.

So what is the word for the italicized phrase? I thought about "choke". But something tells me it isn't.

  • 1
    Swallowed his words is an English idiom, but it means to be forced to admit that something he has said has been shown to be wrong. (Also, in this idiom words must be plural.)
    – user230
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 14:39
  • 4
    @snailboat: It's actually far more common to say he ate his words if he was forced to retract. Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 14:51
  • @FumbleFingers If you include the simple past forms, it's only about twice as common.
    – user230
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 14:55
  • @snailboat: I don't know how to interpret complex NGrams like that. My first guess would have been that the "average" value 500.00% on the left-hand scale means there are 5 times as many eat/ate as swallow/swallowed, which accords with my own intuition. How do you derive "only about twice as common" from that chart? Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 15:04
  • @FumbleFingers It's still a graph over time. I was referring to the ratio in the most recent year on the graph (2000), and if you move your mouse over the very right of the graph, it'll tell you the most recent figure: 226.54%. As for what the numbers mean, look here; it's summing the blue and red lines, and summing the the yellow and green lines as well. It then shows you the ratio between the sums.
    – user230
    Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 15:20

3 Answers 3


The idiomatic expression used for cases like that is bite your tongue, which means to stop yourself from saying something that might upset somebody or cause an argument, although you want to speak.

I was going to tell her the truth, but I bit my tongue.

Choke could be used if you meant to be unable to speak normally especially because of strong emotion. It would not mean somebody avoided saying something he was going to say.

  • This is the first "idiomatic" version that comes to mind for me too. There are various other ways to convey much the same thing though - hold one's peace, hold back, keep mum, button one's lip, stay silent, etc., etc. Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 14:47

"Kept his silence" might be a better expression in this case. Also, I wouldn't run this sentence together with "but":

...almost went to tell Brett. However, he kept his silence, thinking Brett might use this fact...


Brad kept his mouth shut would be quite literal.

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