Episode 02: Why Do We Get Hiccups?


Hiccups are an annoying and usually transient part of the human experience. We all get them, and most of the time all we want to know is how to make them stop. But why do we get them?  Since we all hiccup, even before we’re born, we knew there must be more to the story. This episode explores the anatomy and evolution of the hiccup.



Charles Osborne suffered a bout of the hiccups that lasted 68 years! For the first several decades he hiccuped at a rate of 40 times per minute. This extreme case of intractable hiccups earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, a guest appearance on the Tonight Show, and over 4,000 letters of sympathy.

Dr. Terry Anthoney with his "Hiccup Buster." Photo by Honna Veerkamp

Dr. Terry Anthoney with his “Hiccup Buster.” Photo by Honna Veerkamp

Thanks to Dr. Terry Anthoney, Dr. Jeffrey Laitman, Dr. Richard Wilson, Dr. David Lahti, and to Dr. William Whitelaw who was instrumental in the background research for this story. His paper A phylogenetic hypothesis for the origin of hiccough considers “a phylogenetic perspective, starting from the concept that the ventilatory central pattern generator of lower vertebrates provides the base upon which central pattern generators of higher vertebrates develop.”

This story was produced by Ben Nimkin and edited by Audrey Quinn. Music provided by David Osit.


Origin Stories

Origin Stories is The Leakey Foundation's podcast about why humans are the way we are and the science behind what we know about ourselves.