Monday, April 15, 2013

Hork! Hork!

 A fascinating New York Times article about how the human mouth processes food contained this passage: “A less lethal and more entertaining swallowing misstep is nasal regurgitation. Here the soft palate — home turf of the uvula, that queer little oral stalactite — fails to seal the opening to the nasal cavity. This leaves milk, say, or chewed peas in peril of being horked out the nostrils.”

Emphasis is mine, to convey that I had never before come across the verb hork.  It’s used here in one of its many senses, “to cough or vomit in such a way that the expelled matter exits through the nose.”  But it turns out hork in modern slang has a vast array of meanings: “cough up a hairball,” “choke,” “gobble  food greedily,” “steal,” “break, ruin, or foul up,” “throw,” and “carry or cause to move.”

Determining the origin of the word is not so easy.  A blog with the alarming title “” has several suggestions.

1. Hork is a corruption of gork, a term used in hospital emergency rooms to describe a patient who is non-responsive for an undetermined reason. In a broader context, the word refers to anything that is non-functional.  The etymology of gork is unclear, but it may be an acronym of “God only really knows.”

2. Hork derives from the cartoon character Ren Hoëk (pronounced “Hork”), the mentally unstable Chihuahua on TV’s “Ren and Stimpy.”

3. Hork is an onamatopoeic approximation of the sound a cat makes when coughing up a hairball.

4. Hork is a corruption of hawk, a 16th-century imitative word defined as “to attempt audibly to raise phlegm by clearning the throat.”

Any or all of these may be correct, so take your choice.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou coughs up rhymeballs with distressing frequency.  There is no known cure for his condition. 

            Whenever I decide to hork, 
            It depends on how I feel, 
            As to whether I hork a haunch of pork 
            Or hork a hunk of veal. 

            I hork whatever is on my fork, 
            And I hork it through my nose, 
            I have even horked a cork 
            And a piece of garden hose. 

            I once horked something through my throat 
            That was rough and tasted bad, 
            I felt I’d horked a billy goat— 
            And, sure enough, I had!            


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