A hiccup (or for all good folks of the British persuasion, a hiccough) is defined by the National Library of Medicine as “an unintentional movement (spasm) of the diaphragm, the muscle at the base of the lungs. The spasm is followed by quick closing of the vocal cords, which produces a distinctive sound.”
Which would make a hiccup an onomatopoeion, too.
Getting hiccups seems to be an integral part of the human experience. There are all kinds of supposed remedies for hiccups, most of them less than satisfactory. If aspirin had the same failure rate as all the different home remedies for hiccups, nobody would buy it anymore. Some people will advise you to drink a glass of water; others will tell you to drink it upside down (hey, if you start choking, maybe the hiccups will go away). One common trick is to hold your breath. Another is to have someone startle you, which usually only works after you have forgotten to expect them to startle you, by which time the hiccups may have stopped on their own. Personally, I have had the best luck emptying my lungs and holding my breath out. Nothing works all the time; some of them may not work for you at all. Still, I would bet that every one of us has been able to beat the hiccups at least sometimes. What is the best way to make them stop?
Going back to the definition of hiccups, we see that they are spasms (or quick involuntary movements) of the diaphragm, which is the large flat muscle dividing the chest cavity from the abdomen, and which we use to force air in and out of the lungs. So hiccups don’t just make it hard to breathe; they do so because they take over the function of the breathing muscle.
The trick to making hiccups go away is to regain breathing control. Any exercise, involving water or not, that helps you control your breath will also help rid you of hiccups. If it doesn’t work immediately, don’t give up. You are taking back control of your own muscle, and it will work if you persist.
Some cases of hiccups have a pathological cause, and need to be treated medically. The Guinness Book of World Records has Charles Osborne as the hiccup champion of all time; he was unfortunate enough to have hiccuped more or less continually for 68 years. There is no record of a cause for this lifelong affliction; but another man, Christopher Sands, suffered from hiccups for over two years due to a brain tumor putting pressure on certain nerves.
One thing makes more sense to me than the rest. The phrenic nerve is connected to the diaphragm, and seems to be involved in hiccuping. Some doctors advise pinching the skin over the deltoid muscle (the deltoid is the big muscle on the outside of the shoulder that looks like a triangle – or the Greek letter delta); a branch of the phrenic nerve passes over this muscle. Even if this doesn’t take care of the hiccups, it always feels nice to get a shoulder massage. I think next time I have hiccups, I will ask for a shoulder rub! If I can hold my breath and drink a glass of water while getting my shoulders rubbed, I think my chances are pretty good.
Good luck fighting the hiccups!