# What is the word for “swallow a word”?

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.

• 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.) – snailboat Sep 15 '13 at 14:39
• @snailboat: It's actually far more common to say he ate his words if he was forced to retract. – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '13 at 14:51
• @FumbleFingers If you include the simple past forms, it's only about twice as common. – snailboat Sep 15 '13 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? – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '13 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. – snailboat Sep 15 '13 at 15:20

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 mean "to be unable to speak normally especially because of strong emotion"; it would not mean that somebody avoided saying something he was going to say, though.

• 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. – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '13 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.