How Many Ways Can You Say “Puke”?


Yesterday, with the kind assistance of @mattlehrer and @michelehumes I set off in search of rubber vomit, which I thought would make a nice illustration for a piece on words for “puke.” Unfortunately, I failed, after checking out five places that did have things like rubber dog turds and baby diapers with poo in them. So I must apologize for exposing you to the above picture, but it is kind of artistic, isn’t it?

It is said that the Inuit have 97 different words for snow, reflecting the primacy of the white stuff in their lives. English speakers are obsessed with quite a different set of words…

As I’m fond of telling editors as my deadlines approach, English is a very poor language when it comes to food. Even with a vocabulary list that tops 3.5 million words, English has no way to distinguish between something cooked on a barbecue grill (“grilled”) and something cooked on a flat griddle (“grilled”). The word “fry” is pressed into service in so many distinct usages, that it isn’t worth trying to list them all. Anyway, we’ve borrowed most of our precise cooking words from the French, who are readily able to distinguish sautéing from frying things in deep oil.

Why is it that English is so bad for food words? One reason is that our linguistic forebears didn’t have a very broad range of things to eat, or ways to prepare what they had. Most food was simply “cooked,” an imprecise word if there ever was one. Another explanation is that they really weren’t all that interested in food, the way the French or the Japanese might have been.

But there is one English word that rivals the snow of the Inuits in terms of the number of ways to say it: “puke.” Does that mean that the original English speakers did much more puking than other cultures? Or were obsessed with throwing up for some other reason? Did the food that the Anglo-Saxons ate make them puke more than other tribal groups?

Whatever the reason, we have a slew of words of ways to say “regurgitate” (that one’s derived from the Latin), including nouns, verbs, and elaborate ritualized expressions. Here’s a quick list that I’ve compiled. If you can think of more, please put them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Next: the many forms of “puke”


(In alphabetical order)

Blow chunks
Bow down before the porcelain god
Chuck your Cheerios
Cough up your cookies
Empty your stomach
Jersey yodel
Lose your lunch
Spit up
Throw up
Tonsil toss
Toss your cookies

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