(From A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe, Part I, Aberfan, chapter 5)

He fights the instinct to crumple the shirt in one fist behind his back . . .

Everything he must do this day is about these people standing before him now; that woman in the tweed coat and torn stockings, that man with the ragged shirt and terrified eyes, and that little boy on the table with smashed legs. William is here now because he has a skill (he is an embalmer) that nobody wants to need. But they do, and he will provide it.

His breath catches as he inhales, his throat suddenly too big, He lifts the shirt aloft and calls on every bit of voice control he's ever learned.

'Whose little boy went to school - '

'Owen!' . . .

I take "his throat suddenly too big" to mean the same like "to feel or have a globus sensation".


Does that apply to the context? Is "feel" or "have a big throat" an idiom?

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    PSA: don't look up "throat too big" on Google with Safe Search off... Commented Apr 14 at 15:47
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    I wouldn't want to get too precise about exactly what physical sensation is being described above. So far as I'm concerned, it's not really any different to (one's) gorge rises (at something) when One is disgusted or sickened {by something}. Apparently, "Gorge" there was first recorded in Shakespeare, and refers to the stomach. But I've used and encountered gorges rising all my life without knowing that. Irrelevant minor detail, I'd say. Commented Apr 14 at 16:40
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    "His breath catches" tells us it's a passing sensation, not a listed illness. An embalmer could not be a shrinking violet. Commented Apr 14 at 18:58
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    Obviously the guy's throat hasn't actually changed in size. how do we know why he feels like it has, or what having such a feeling means to him? Someone's creative turn of phrase, and a matter of opinion, I'd say. Commented Apr 14 at 20:05
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    I did know what 'globus sensation' is, but only because I looked it up when I had symptoms of this kind some years ago. It's an ongoing sensation, not a momentary feeling caused by emotion as described in the book. Commented Apr 15 at 8:07

2 Answers 2


It's not a common idiom or phrase.

I'm not 100 percent sure what the author was going for here, but my best guess is that they wanted to evoke the feeling of one's throat tightening - when you're stressed, or emotional, it can feel as if your throat is constricted, making it difficult to breathe or speak. Idiomatically, it's similar to what you call a "globus sensation", and what's more commonly called having a lump in one's throat.

The problem I have with the author's choice of words is that the word "throat" in those idioms is usually taken to mean the laryngeal cavity, or the part of the throat through which the air goes, so a throat getting bigger would mean it's more open and make it easier to speak. The author - in my interpretation - seems to use "throat" to mean the parts of the body around that cavity, so them getting bigger would constrict the airflow.

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    (I'd say having a lump in one's throat is more commonly associated with sadness and crying, and the throat tightening with anxiety and panic, but I'm not sure if that's a distinction anyone else makes). Commented Apr 14 at 16:10
  • How can big mean tightening?
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 15 at 19:22
  • @Lambie if the flesh of your throat gets bigger (ie. swells), the air passage gets tighter. Again, that's just a guess in context - it doesn't make sense for the throat to feel too open to breathe. Commented Apr 15 at 20:42

His breath catches as he inhales, his throat suddenly too big,

In other words, his throat feels too big for the amount of air he inhales.

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