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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English coughen, coghen (to cough; to vomit) [and other forms], from Old English *cohhian (compare Old English cohhetan (to bluster; to riot; to cough (?))), from Proto-West Germanic *kuh- (to cough), ultimately of onomatopoeic origin.[1]


cough (third-person singular simple present coughs, present participle coughing, simple past and past participle coughed)

  1. (transitive)
    1. Sometimes followed by up: to force (something) out of the lungs or throat by pushing air from the lungs through the glottis (causing a short, explosive sound), and out through the mouth.
      Sometimes she coughed up blood.
    2. To cause (oneself or something) to be in a certain condition in the manner described in sense 1.1.
      He almost coughed himself into a fit.
    3. To express (words, etc.) in the manner described in sense 1.1.
    4. (figurative)
      1. To surrender (information); to confess.
      2. (originally US, slang) Chiefly followed by up: to give up or hand over (something); especially, to pay up (money).
  2. (intransitive)
    1. To push air from the lungs through the glottis (causing a short, explosive sound) and out through the mouth, usually to expel something blocking or irritating the airway.
      I breathed in a lungful of smoke by mistake, and started to cough.
      • 1577, Martial, “Epigrammes out of Martial. [To Parthenope.]”, in Timothe Kendall, transl., Flowers of Epigrammes [], [Manchester]: [] [Charles Simms] for the Spenser Society, published 1874, →OCLC, pages 56–57:
        Yet notwithſtandyng all this geare, / thou cougheſt ſtill, perdy / Ye are a craftie knaue, you cough / to fare deliciouſly.
      • c. 1603–1604 (date written), William Shakespeare, The Tragœdy of Othello, the Moore of Venice. [] (First Quarto), London: [] N[icholas] O[kes] for Thomas Walkley, [], published 1622, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene ii], page 70:
        Leave procreants alone, and ſhut the dore, / Coffe, or cry hem, if any body come, []
      • 1828 May 15, [Walter Scott], chapter X, in Chronicles of the Canongate. Second Series. [] (The Fair Maid of Perth), volume III, Edinburgh: [] [Ballantyne and Co.] for Cadell and Co.; London: Simpkin and Marshall, →OCLC, page 259:
        "Did your lordship's servant see Simon Glover and his daughter?" said Henry, struggling for breath, and coughing, to conceal from the Provost the excess of his agitation.
      • 1835 January 23 (date written), Frederic James Post, “A Discourse Touching Rides and Riding”, in Extracts from the Diary and Other Manuscripts of the Late Frederic James Post, of Islington. [], London: [] [James Moyes] for private circulation, published 1838, →OCLC, pages 331–332:
        But often, when thy face [i.e., that of a horse] is turned from the stable, thou hast an unaccountable desire to place it in the position occupied by thy tail: thou stoppest, coughest, shyest, and erst, with swift detorsion, turnest round, then, with sidelong glance of my magic caduceus, ominously wagging between the horizon and thy ample sides, I incite thee on, but rarely does thy pace more than trot, from home.
      • [[1840], A[ngelo] Renzi, “Verbi. Verbes. Verbs.”, in Le polyglotte improvisé, ou l’art d’écrire les langues sans les appendre. [] [The Improvised Polyglot, or The Art of Writing Languages without Learning Them. []], Paris: Chez l‘auteur, []; Chez Baudry, [], et Chez les Principaux Libraries, →OCLC, page 498:
        Tossivi / Tu tossais / Thou coughedst]
      • 1869 May, Anthony Trollope, “Trevelyan Discourses on Life”, in He Knew He Was Right, volume II, London: Strahan and Company, [], →OCLC, page 336:
        After this he fell a-coughing violently, and Stanbury thought it better to leave him.
      • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter XXXI, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, →OCLC, page 246:
        "But it is unfortunate—you find me at the moment—" and he stopped short and coughed.
      • 1960, P[elham] G[renville] Wodehouse, chapter XI, in Jeeves in the Offing, London: Herbert Jenkins, →OCLC:
        I drew a deep breath, and a moment later wished I hadn't, because I drew it while drinking the remains of my gin and tonic. “Does Kipper know of this?“ I said, when I had finished coughing.
    2. To make a noise like a cough.
      The engine coughed and sputtered.
    3. (originally US, slang) To surrender information; to confess, to spill the beans.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

The noun is derived from Middle English cough (a cough; illness causing coughing) [and other forms],[2] from coughen (verb): see etymology 1.[3]

The interjection is probably derived from the noun.


cough (plural coughs)


A series of three coughs (noun sense 1).
  1. A sudden, often involuntary expulsion of air from the lungs through the glottis (causing a short, explosive sound), and out through the mouth.
    Behind me, I heard a distinct, dry cough.
  2. A bout of repeated coughing (verb sense 2.1); also, a medical condition that causes one to cough.
    (medical condition): Synonym: tussis
    Sorry, I can’t come to work today—I’ve got a nasty cough.
  3. (figurative) A noise or sound like a cough (sense 1).
Derived terms[edit]
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.



  1. Used to represent the sound of a cough (noun sense 1), especially when focusing attention on a following utterance, often an attribution of blame or a euphemism: ahem.
    He was—cough—indisposed.


  1. ^ cough, v.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023; cough, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ cough, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  3. ^ Compare cough, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023; cough, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]


Middle English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]


From coughen.



cough (uncountable)

  1. coughing


  • English: cough
  • Yola: keough