I mean a verb(word?) to describe the action of intentionally coughing as you speaking. (Shown as 'ahem' or 'cough' in dialogue.)

For example:

I cannot forget what she said, mixing in coughs with her words:

"There used to be before ... [cough] but not [cough] anymore."

(I've used [cough] to only show what I mean. I won't actually be writing it in the dialogue.)

EDIT: Can I say "I cannot forget what she said, interspersing her words with coughs." instead?

  • I'd just describe it as coughing and let context do the rest of the work, but I'm not sure if there's a more specific word for this. There might be. It seems like the kind of action we don't create new words for (coughing while speaking, and we already have words for coughing and speaking) but you never know!
    – WendiKidd
    Jun 4, 2013 at 1:18
  • I think it would need quite a few more words to enable a reader to grasp what's being described. I can easily understand one "(ahem)" to mean the speaker is slightly hesitant/bashful about the exact choice of the word(s) following, but I can't visualise a real-world scenario with this happening repeatedly as per OP's example. Jun 4, 2013 at 2:27
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers OP is trying to describe when you fake-cough to cover up words you're saying (you expect the listener to know what you mean, but are acting like you're trying to hide it). I actually just found a question on ELU that is quite similar (and perhaps explains it better than I can): english.stackexchange.com/questions/8576/… The best answer given there seems to just be "cough" as well. There's a comment on that answer that links to a TVTropes entry that might be useful: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CoughSnarkCough
    – WendiKidd
    Jun 4, 2013 at 2:38
  • For "ahem", I would say "He cleared his throat." (a cough on purpose). If it wasn't on purpose, I would say "He coughed".
    – Xantix
    Jun 4, 2013 at 5:37

1 Answer 1


Aside from just sticking with "cough," I think I might use the expression "to hem and haw" in this context. As defined by thefreedictionary.com, to hem and haw is "to pause a lot and avoid saying something directly." Even "hem" alone might work. A hem is "A short cough or clearing of the throat made especially to gain attention, warn another, hide embarrassment, or fill a pause in speech." To hem is to utter a hem.


"He hemmed and hawed and would not come to the point."

"He took forever to tell me what he wanted, hemming and hawing and refusing to make eye contact the whole time."

  • I don't think this is at all the meaning the OP is looking for. That's what "hem and haw" means, but the OP isn't asking for that. They want a word for this TV Tropes article: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CoughSnarkCough I don't think there really is a word other than cough.
    – WendiKidd
    Jun 5, 2013 at 14:17

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