I understand that the word stifle can be used in cases such as

Those in the streets were stifled by the fumes

She stifled a giggle

I was wondering though if it could also be used as direct subsitution for "choking" when we talk about the literal act of somebody suffocating, or choking somebody.

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    suffocated, choked, and stifled by the fumes are all fine (but suffocated more strongly implies killed). She could feasibly choke back a giggle, but that's a context where stifle is more likely. And we often talk about stifling heat - sometimes suffocating heat, but never choking heat. Stifling is never used for the "literal act" of choking someone. Aug 6 at 17:41

1 Answer 1


Writers in perhaps any language, and certainly this is true of English, will sometimes co-opt an unusual word and use it in place of a more common word just to catch the reader's attention with a new way of saying something, as opposed to saying it in the common, trite way.

However, in this case, I would not choose "stifle" to take the place of "choke" for the simple reason that it would be underwhelming. It would be akin to saying "hit" instead of "smash." Usually writers prefer to emphasize something, rather than to understate it.

In normal usage, "stifle" implies hindering or impeding. The dictionary may say "restrain." It can mean "suffocating," but it would never reach the level of fatality--it just means that breathing becomes very difficult.

It also depends on the manner of "suffocation." If one is suffocated through the use of physical force, such as hands around the neck or a hangman's noose, the word "stifle" would seem out of place. Nor would "stifle" apply if one has drowned underwater. If, however, one has a thick cloth or pillow placed over the face, then "stifle" might apply. Again, the connotation with "stifle" is that breathing is made very difficult--not necessarily impossible.

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