meaning and origin of ‘to have a frog in one’s throat’




An instantaneous remedy for “Laryngeal” and “Bronchial Inflammation,” “Tickling,” “Clergymens’ [sic] Sore Throat,” “Smokers’ Sore Throat,” Soreness resulting from dryness of the throat and air passages, or from “clearing the throat.” They afford greater relief than anything hitherto known.
Especially useful to Singers, Speakers, Readers, Actors, Teachers, and all voice workers.

See our Window!

advertisement from The Star (Guernsey) of 18th December 1894



The phrase to have a frog in one’s throat means to lose one’s voice or find it hard to speak because of hoarseness. (The equivalent French expression is avoir un chat dans la gorge, to have a cat in the throat; its first known user was the French criminal and detective Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857) in his Mémoires (1829).)

In December 1894, a voice lozenge called Frog in your Throat? was introduced nationwide. For example, the Essex Herald of 18th December had:


All persons passing Tindal-square, Chelmsford, just now, are sure to pause and look in the windows of James Tomlinson, chemist. They will there see one of the best and most extraordinary window displays ever seen in the district. The object is to advertise a newly introduced bronchial troche and voice lozenge, with the curious name of “Frog in your Throat?,” for which James Tomlinson has been appointed the local agent. The lozenge is put forward not only as a “cure for coughs and colds,” but also a valuable aid to “singers, speakers, preachers, teachers, and voice workers.” The window teems with frogs. There are big frogs and little frogs, professional frogs, and working class frogs; idle frogs and industrious frogs; frogs standing up and frogs sitting down; frogs walking, and frogs jumping; and a frog’s love story set forth in four chapters. The latter might be called a variation of the history of ‘The frog who would a-wooing go.’ The first chapter shows the froggy’s case of ‘Love at first sight;’ the second the presence of ‘A rival’ to master frog; the third, ‘The proposal’ of marriage; and the last, the happy pair some time after the wedding. James Tomlinson is to be congratulated on the show, which has constantly before it a crowd of admiring spectators, and can only have the desired effect of drawing universal attention to “Frog in your Throat?” as also the various useful presents in the other window and shop.—Advt.

This lozenge, together with the methods used to advertise it, came from the USA. It was manufactured by Hance Brothers and White, pharmaceutical chemists, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The following is from The Shetland Times (Scotland) of 22nd December:

Novel Window Advertising.—A “Frog-in-your-Throat” display in the shop window of Mr Laing, chemist, has attracted considerable attention during the week. This is one of the latest developments of Yankee advertising, and has been devised to introduce Hance Brothers & White’s “Frog-in-your-Throat” Lozenges, a new lozenge for the cure of coughs and throat troubles. The expression “Frog-in-your-throat” is in common use in America, where, if a person coughs or shows any hoarseness or huskiness of the voice, he is sure to be asked—“ What’s the matter; got a frog in your throat?” The chief feature of the above show is the “Love Story in Four Chapters.” Chapter I. is entitled “Love at first sight,” and shows a lady frog who, whilst out for a walk, has attracted the attention of a suceptable [= susceptible] gentleman frog. Chapter II. shows the presence of a “Rival” to master frog. Chapter III. represents a “Proposal of marriage.” Chapter IV. displays the “Result,” where the happy pair are out for a walk, the lady frog carrying a baby frog in her arms. —Advt.

These two articles seem to indicate that, at that time, to have a frog in one’s throat was an American-English expression. An article titled Curious Window Display, published in The Cheshire Observer of 5th January 1895, confirmed this; it had the following about a different window display, in Chester, “especially designed by Mr. J. E. Garratt, of Philadelphia, sole agent in Europe for the lozenge, “Frog in your Throat?””:

“Frog in your Throat,” we learn, is an interesting bit of philology, being an old English expression once in common use, now forgotten here, but still in daily use in America, where it has survived from the language of the early settlers.

And indeed, the phrase is first recorded in How to be a Man (Boston, 1847), by the American clergyman and writer Harvey Newcomb (1803-63):

Now, let me beg of you to learn to say NO. If you find any difficulty in uttering it,—if your tongue won’t do its office, or if you find a “frog in your throat,” which obstructs your utterance,—go by yourself, and practise saying no, NO, NO! till you can articulate clearly, distinctly, and without hesitation; and have it always ready on your tongue’s end, to utter with emphasis to every girl or boy, man or woman, or evil spirit, that presumes to propose to you to do any thing that is wrong. Only be careful to say it respectfully and courteously, with the usual prefixes and suffixes, which properly belong to the persons to whom you are speaking.

However, I have found an instance of the expression in an anonymous poem published in The Ballymena Observer (Antrim, Ireland) of 30th May 1885:


Oh, I’m the first robin just dropped into town!
          Peewink! peewink! peewiddledewink!
Catch on to my ulster, all lined with swansdown!
Pray pardon my voice. I’ve a frog in my throat,
And I really can’t tackle my ’way up note
With my feet in the pockets of my stuffed coat!

But it is possible that, when this poem was composed, to have a frog in one’s throat had been introduced in Ireland and Great Britain through books such as The Blunders of a Bashful Man (New York, 1881), by the American novelist Metta Victoria Fuller Victor (1831-85), a selection of which was published in The Evening Telegraph (Dundee, Scotland) of 12th October 1882:

I knew I could do the poetry, and I firmly resolved that I would read it through, from beginning to end, in a clear well-modulated voice, that could be heard by all, including the minister and Belle Marigold. I would not blush, or stammer, or get a frog in my throat. I swore solemnly to myself that I would not. Some folks should see that my bashfulness was wearing off faster than the gold from an oroide watch. […]
The room was crowded, the President of the Society made a few opening remarks, which closed by presenting Mr Flutter, the poet of the occasion. I was quite easy and at home until I arose and bowed as he spoke my name. Then something happened to my senses, I don’t know what, I only knew I lost every one of them for about two minutes. I was blind, deaf, dumb, tasteless, senseless, and feelingless. Then I came to a little, rallied, and perceived that some of the boys were beginning to pound the floor with their heels. I made a feint of holding my roll of verses nearer the lamp at my right hand, summoned traitor memory to return, and began—
Was that my voice? I did not recognise it. It was more as if a mouse in the gallery had squeaked. It would never do, I cleared my throat—which was to have been free from frogs—and a strange, hoarse voice, no more like mine than a crow is like a nightingale, came out with a jerk, about six feet away, and remarked, as if surprised:—

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.