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Yesterday, I had a hiccup attack. I don’t get them very often but they can be somewhat persistent. The involuntary contractions of my diaphragm muscle seemed to be settling in for a while so I tried all the usual tricks:I held my breath, drank some water really quickly and from the wrong side of the glass, a spoon full of sugar (yuck) and one of peanut butter (yum) and I even tried pulling my tongue (not as easy as it sounds). I couldn’t quite surprise or scare myself but I did make an attempt.

But my myoclonic jerk just wouldn’t stop. Now I know that it isn’t really clear why we hiccup but what I didn’t know is that only milk-drinking mammals hiccup. And the latest theory (Howes 2012) is that hiccups have evolved to allow mammals to coordinate suckling milk while breathing. Somehow hiccups are there to allow for trapped air burbles to escape from the stomach while babies drink, making it possible for more milk to be ingested.What confuses me is, that I wasn’t drinking milk – or anything for that matter – and I’m definitely not a baby. But since hiccups do seem to be also linked to stress, excessive laughter, too much food and drink, eating and drinking too quickly, swallowing air, taking opiates and chewing gum, I am sure one of those reasons was possibly to blame.

Since we call our small daily mishaps hiccups I began to wonder if maybe those involuntary jerks of life may have reasons as simple and surprising as their namesake. But maybe it is all just trapped air.

The universe hiccups and we poor fools try to figure out why.

Writer Mathew Quick