Hiccups are no fun, and we’ve been coming up with weird ways to cure them for centuries. You’ve likely heard of several tactics, and maybe even tried them—eating a spoonful of sugar, drinking from the wrong side of the glass, allowing your friends to terrify you. Below are seven folk remedies to add to your repertoire, vouched for by grandmothers the world over.
1. FIGURE OUT WHO MISSES YOU.
In one of the most common superstitions, the annoying spasms are a sign that you’re popular. To cure hiccups, Russians will list off names of people they know—when your hiccups disappear after a specific name, that person misses you. Similar beliefs show up throughout Europe and Asia, although in Hungary, hiccups mean you’re being gossiped about, not missed. In ancient Greece, people were straight-up complaining about you.
2. SING A RELIGIOUS SONG.
The Old English word for hiccup is ælfsogoða—literally “elf hiccup,” because hiccups were believed to be caused by elves. But ancient elves aren’t like those of the Keebler or Middle-Earth varieties; they’re demons, which means you need an exorcism. And not your standard one, either: one 10th-century English remedy tells you to prepare a salve of herbs, draw a cross or two, and sing a religious verse in Latin. English speakers who don’t know Latin are punished with a less pleasant ritual, where you spit on your right forefinger, make a cross on the front of your left shoe, and say the Lord’s Prayer backward. Potentially, the latter may work without the spitting. No promises, though.
3. PUT WET THINGS ON YOUR FOREHEAD.
Filipinos treat hiccups by ripping off a small square of paper towel, wetting it, and applying it (directly!) to the forehead. No paper towels on hand? Try thread … but then you have to wet it with spit. In Latin America, not just any thread will do: make sure it’s red string, which can be reused in future hiccup-related endeavors. A Sinti (a Romani people) cure involves tying a key to the red string, putting it around your neck, and throwing the key over your left shoulder.
4. VISUALIZE A GREEN COW GRAZING IN A BLUE FIELD.
Dr. Muiris Houston tells The Irish Times that the “proper, but hardly ever used, medical term is singultus, from the Latin singult. Roughly translated this means ‘the act of catching one's breath while sobbing.’” According to Houston, a favorite hiccup remedy from the west of Ireland is to visualize a green cow grazing in a blue field.
5. HOLD A PART OF YOUR FACE.
In 16th century Scotland, people suffering from hiccups were told to “hold their chinne with their right hand whiles a gospell is soong.” Meanwhile, Vikings dealing with the same issue were told to grasp their tongue in a handkerchief (make sure it’s clean first), pull the bundle away from their face, and count silently to a hundred.
6. PUT A KNIFE IN YOUR WATER GLASS.
The Norwegian cure for hiccups is, well, really metal: take three sips of water from a glass containing a sharp knife (pointy side down). Oh, and hold your breath. Finns have a gentler approach: skip the breath-holding, swap a spoon for the knife, and throw some sugar in there too. Just make sure to position the spoon so it’s facing away from you.
7. LET SOMEONE ASK YOU UNPREDICTABLE QUESTIONS.
Depending on the question, this could be more frightening than having a friend sneak up behind you. “If you are suddenly asked ‘What is tofu made from?’ while having endless hiccups, you will be taken aback,” claims the website Japan Style. “It is said that hiccups stop when you answer ‘daizu.’” If you can’t find anyone to ask you about tofu, just the word daizu is rumored to have hiccup-curing properties when said aloud. (It means “soybeans.")
Make sure to try this method as soon as your hiccups start, by the way. In Japan, hiccuping 100 consecutive times means you will die.