Choke On: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 22, 2023

We frequently use the term "choke on" to describe a situation when someone struggles to breathe or swallow due to an obstruction in their throat. However, this doesn't always refer to a literal choking scenario. It can also describe a struggle or failure due to a particular situation or circumstance. It conveys an image of experiencing difficulty, and sometimes even shock or surprise, in a given scenario.

In short:

  • "Choke on" is usually used to describe a situation where something is obstructing the throat, making breathing or swallowing difficult.
  • Figuratively, it suggests the idea of struggling or failing due to a specific situation or circumstance.

What Does "Choke on" Mean?

The phrase "choke on" typically refers to the physical act of having difficulty swallowing or breathing due to something blocking the throat. However, it can also be used metaphorically to express the idea of encountering difficulty, often due to surprise, shock, or the sheer scale of a situation.

Let's dive deeper into its meanings and usage:

  • "Choke on" often refers to the act of experiencing trouble swallowing or breathing because something is lodged in one's throat.
  • It's a term frequently used to express a metaphorical difficulty or struggle in handling a certain situation or scenario. This could be due to an unexpected event, a shocking piece of news, or a daunting task that appears too overwhelming to handle.
  • You might use "choke on" in a conversation to highlight the intensity of a situation.
    • For instance, someone might say, "I nearly choked on my words when I saw the exam questions," to convey the surprise and difficulty they faced during the test.
  • Similar phrases to "choke on" could include "stumble over," "struggle with," "balk at," or "be taken aback by."

Where Does "Choke on" Come From?

The origin of the phrase "choke on" is not entirely clear. Still, it likely stems from the literal meaning of choking, which is to stop the breath of someone by obstructing their windpipe or by poisoning or adulterating available air. The word "choke" itself can be traced back to Old English "āceocian," which means "to choke" or "to suffocate." The figurative meaning of the term, referring to failure or struggle due to pressure or anxiety, has become more prevalent in sports and other high-pressure situations.

Historical Example

"And serves with liberal hand the foaming draught,  And, joking with the maidens while they drink, They almost choke on laughter and the ale; But, pleased with all..."

- "Autumn" by Robert Duthie, 1866

10 Examples of "Choke on" in Sentences

To better understand how to use this phrase, let's examine some examples from various contexts:

  • The emotional movie scene hit me right in the feels, and I almost choke on my popcorn.
  • "I'll talk to you soon," she said, choking on her emotions as they said their goodbyes.
  • During his speech, he choked on a complex scientific term and lost his train of thought.
  • She didn't even bat an eye when her friend seemingly choked on a piece of candy during the party.
  • Upon hearing the final score, she almost choked on her victory shout.
  • He was choking on the harsh reality of his defeat.
  • Son of a biscuit, I almost choked on my drink when I heard that news!
  • When it rains, it pours, and just as things were getting worse, he choked on his own words during the presentation.
  • Despite choking on her words during the speech, she knew the show must go on.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, he was choking on his own ambitions.

Examples of "Choke on" in Pop Culture

The expression "choke on" often pops up in various forms of popular culture, usually as a metaphor for dealing with unexpected or challenging situations.

Let's consider a few examples:

  • "Choke On This" is a song by the American rock band Senses Fail. The title can be seen as a metaphor for facing life's difficulties head-on.
  • In the TV series "Breaking Bad," a character overdoses and chokes on her own vomit, an instance that has profound implications for the story.
  • "Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It" by Sian Beilock explores the fascinating connection between the brain and performance under pressure.
  • "Choke" by Chuck Palahniuk follows the story of Victor Mancini, who devises a unique scheme to fund his mother's medical expenses.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Choke on"

There are many alternative phrases that can convey a similar meaning to "choke on."

Here are a few of them:

  • Stumble over
  • Struggle with
  • Balk at
  • Be taken aback by
  • Be overwhelmed by
  • Fumble on
  • Be surprised by
  • Stutter on
  • Get hung up on
  • Find it hard to swallow

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Choke on":

  • What does "choke on" mean?

The phrase "choke on" can have a literal meaning of having difficulty in swallowing something, leading to coughing or gagging. Figuratively, it can mean to falter or be overwhelmed when confronted with an unexpected or difficult situation.

  • How can I use "choke on" in a sentence?

You can use "choke on" in a sentence like, "I choked on my coffee when I heard the news," or, "He told her to get over it after she choked on her words during the argument,."

  • Can "choke on" be used in a metaphorical context?

Yes, it can. When used metaphorically, "choke on" can mean to struggle with something emotionally or intellectually, as in "He choked on the magnitude of his mistake."

  • Is "choke on" used more commonly in a literal or figurative sense?

"Choke on" is often used literally to denote someone struggling to swallow. However, it is also frequently used in a figurative context to depict someone struggling with a situation or idea.

  • Is "choke on" an idiom?

It can be considered an idiom when used in a figurative sense. For example, "He choked on his words" does not literally mean the person choked physically, but rather that they struggled to express their thoughts or feelings.

  • Does "choke on" imply severe difficulty?

In its literal usage, "choke on" does imply a significant difficulty in swallowing. Figuratively, it suggests a severe struggle with a situation or concept.

  • Can "choke on" be used in a humorous context?

Yes, it can be used in a humorous context, especially when the struggle or difficulty involved is minor or somewhat ridiculous. For example, "She choked on her own sarcasm."

  • How can "choke on" be used in a professional setting?

In a professional setting, "choke on" can be used to describe a situation where someone struggles with a task or challenge. For instance, "The team choked on the complexities of the new project."

  • What are synonyms for "choke on"?

Some synonyms for "choke on" might include "stumble over," "struggle with," "balk at," or "be overwhelmed by," depending on the context.

  • Can "choke on" be used in a positive context?

Typically, "choke on" is used in negative or challenging contexts. However, it could be used in a positive context if the difficulty leads to growth or development. For example, "He choked on his initial failure, but it spurred him to work harder and improve."

Final Thoughts About "Choke On"

The phrase "choke on" holds a dual meaning - it can be used both literally and figuratively. Literally, it refers to the physical act of choking due to a blockage in the throat. Figuratively, it implies struggling or being overwhelmed when confronted with a challenging situation or when encountering an unexpected obstacle.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Choke on" denotes the act of facing difficulties or challenges, often unexpectedly.
  • The phrase can be employed in various situations to highlight a struggle or a challenge, whether that's in the midst of a conversation, dealing with an unexpected development, or grappling with a complex task or idea.
  • The expression is versatile, capable of being used in both humorous and serious contexts, and it can be applied in personal as well as professional scenarios.

The idiom provides a vivid depiction of the struggle that occurs when we're caught off guard or find ourselves in over our heads, offering a useful tool for illustrating such situations in both speech and writing.

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