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Dr. Evil: What did you call me?
Scott: Nothing. [pretends to sneeze] Ripoff.

Dr. Evil: Bless you.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Now, by "cough-cough-getalife", do you mean "cough-getalife-cough"? Because [coughs twice] "get a life" isn't funny, but [cough] "Get a life" [cough]. Now that's funny.
—John Green, Brotherhood 2.0

When someone needs some... uh... (coughHELPcough) help coming up with an, er... what's the word... (coughIDEAcough) an idea, someone else may be particularly unsubtle about giving the answer. Or an insult or snide comment is made, but is not intended to be heard by someone standing nearby (coughJACKASScough).

Hey, I heard that!

Anyway, other things that can be hidden between coughs or sneezes are names, as in, "I'm not going to name names but there's one person in this group who's a real pain coughALICEcough," or even entire sentences. Occasionally subverted by repeating the hidden words for clarification, implying the insult was garbled by a genuine cough and the cougher really just has no respect for the person in question.

Someone who is being especially snarky may just say "cough" instead of actually coughing.

Sometimes the cough doesn't hide any words, but indicates complete disbelief at what the cougher is hearing.

Examples of Cough-Snark-Cough include:


  • A commercial for Ricola throat lozenges plays with the "coughing to convey disbelief" variant. A politician is speaking at a press conference, but one of his aides keeps loudly coughing whenever he makes a promise. After getting a Death Glare from his boss, the aide leans over to the microphone and meekly asks if anyone has a Ricola he can use.

Anime and Manga

  • Lupin III: The English dub of the second series has Zenigata pulling this twice in a row towards the chief commissioner of the French police department after he turned down his order to put a team together to catch Lupin because he is regarded sort of a national icon towards France. Though the chief commissioner was Lupin in disguise.

Zenigata: {as he is about to leave the room} *sneeze*Penis*sneeze*! Must've caught a cold or something... *sneeze*Asswipe*sneeze*!


Comic Books

  • There's a scene in Box Office Poison where a hated comics publisher speaks at a convention and he gets this from the audience.
  • Major Havoc: *cough* Bitch.
  • In an issue of the Initiative (post-Civil War), while a group of heroes-in-training is headed to Camp Hammond, a mention is made of Hank Pym, who will be waiting there (except not really). Prodigy, one of the people in the bus, immediately responds with "*cough* Wifebeater".
  • During a meeting in Dilbert the original Pointy-Haired Boss wants to find out why all his division's project's fail, what they all have in common. While the employee sitting at whichever side he isn't looking to is pointing right at the boss, Alice goes for a sneeze-cover: "Haaa-itsyou!" "Gesundheid."


  • Bring It On has a character mercilessly skewer a "loser sneezer" for their employment of such a tired joke.
  • Animal House. During the Disciplinary Council meeting, the Delta fraternity members protested the Kangaroo Court proceedings by coughing while saying "blowjob" "bullshit".
  • Val Kilmer coughs "bullshit" when Tom Cruise is describing his upside-down hijinks (with a Russian MiG, pervs!) in Top Gun.
  • In Disney's Brother Bear, one of the moose brothers coughs his opinion of recently-turned-bear Kenai, who is trying to convince them that he is actually a human.

Kenai: I was transformed into a bear... magically. I-I was lifted into the sky by my brother-
Tuke: Uh-huh... *cough* Crazy *cough* !
Rut: Eh, gezundheit.
Tuke: Ah, no, *cough* a fruitcake *cough*.
Rut: Hey, are you okay?
Tuke: *cough* Ah, no! *cough* *cough* That bear *cough* *cough* over there *cough*! *cough* He's crazy! *cough*

  • Used by Naveen in The Princess and the Frog to call Tiana a "killjoy" and a "stick in the mud".
  • Inverted in the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Whenever a guest to the factory says something that Willy Wonka doesn't want to hear, he accuses them of mumbling, even though they are speaking clearly or, in one memorable case, outright yelling at him.
  • In Robin Hood: Men in Tights, when Prince John tries to blame all his misdeeds on the Sheriff, the entire audience at the wedding coughs "Bullshit!" in unison.
  • Also inverted in Wild Wild West, in which the coughing is pointedly absent:

Gordon: Someone, who will remain nameless - *turns and shouts in the opposite direction* JIM WEST! - decided to jump over the wire, thereby providing us with that exhilarating romp through the cornfield, and that death-defying leap into the abysmal muck!


Lloyd: Few baseball cards, a sack of marbles, *coughs* Petey.
Harry: Petey? You sold my dead bird to a blind kid? Lloyd, wh- he- wha- Petey didn't even have a head!




"You only like him because he's handsome", said Ron scathingly.
"Excuse me, I don't like people just because they're handsome!" said Hermione indignantly.
Ron gave a loud false cough, which sounded oddly like "Lockhart!"

  • A lovely example of the disbelieving cough occurs in 1632, when the Scots cavalrymen who don't yet fully grasp what late-20th-Century firepower can do are stunned that the Americans want them to be ready to pursue an enemy force.

Pursuit? *cough, cough* Doesn't that, ahem, presuppose that you've already defeated the enemy?


Live Action TV

  • In one episode of How I Met Your Mother, Marshall coughs out an entire sentence - a sentence about how he's insinuating something about Robyn and he isn't really coughing.
    • Also:

Barney: *cough* Lesbian.
Robin: The cough is supposed to cover the "lesbian".
Barney: Nah, I'm trying to start a thing where the cough is separate.

    • Another time, Barney takes it to extremes when discussing Zoe's description of her cousin Honey (played by Katy Perry).:

Barney:"Cute means fat *cough*"
Barney:"Not-fat means ugly *cough*"
Barney:"I take back everything I said. That girl is extremely attractive *cough* *cough* *cough*"

  • Veronica Mars specifically references the trope in the episode "Like a Virgin". After someone took a false purity test for Meg Manning (she "got" a 48, which for someone who hadn't even gone to second base with her boyfriend of years was delightful to the gossip hounds), she notes the many ways she's been teased, including "slut sneezing". Veronica, for some reason, doesn't get the reference, and Meg has to demonstrate by sneezing and saying "slut" as she does so. She seems embarrassed even by this, but does it again as if to reinforce how lame it is, and shrugs.
  • The Office (American version) has Andy and Dwight get into a coughing conversation after their first day of work together.

Andy: *cough* Idiot
Dwight: *cough* You're the idiot. *cough*
Andy: *cough* Nice comeback. *cough*
Dwight: *cough* I was *cough* making fun of your comeback. *cough* That's why it *cough* worked! [Andy walks away and Dwight turns to the camera] Well, it looks like I got the best of that interchange. [Starts coughing uncontrollably.]


Cordelia: Why are these terrible things always happening to me?
Xander: *cough* Karma! *cough*

    • When the Initiative boys complain about Prof. Walsh sending them to look for Spike on Thanksgiving, Riley insists that Spike knowing about them means he's still a threat even with his Restraining Bolt.

Forrest: (coughing) Mama's boy.
Riley: That's a nasty cough. You might need to spend the weekend in quarantine.
Forrest: Oh, no. I'm done coughing.

    • In a later episode, Buffy is tearing into the Watcher's Council about their actions. While she is on the topic of getting Giles re-instated as a Watcher, Giles throws out a *cough* "retroactive" when his salary is mentioned.
    • And from the season after that, we get this exchange between an active vengeance demon and a former one:

Halfrek: Oh, [punishing men who wronged women] was just Anya's little raison d'etre. Most of us try to be a little more well-rounded.
Anya: "Well-rounded", huh? Is that how you explain your thing for bad-parents?
Halfrek: Oh, that's not a thing. The children need me.
Anya: *coughing* Daddy issues.


Kitty: So, Laurie, who are you seeing up at the college?
Laurie: Oh, I'm dating several.
Eric: *cough* Slut!
Kitty: Bless you.


Shawn: *cough* Loser!
Mr. Turner (the teacher present at the time): *cough* Detention!
Shawn: *cough* Sorry!

  • Happens once on Reba when Van says "*cough* baloney!" But because it's aimed at his wife, an argument ensues.
  • Was something of a running gag in the early episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch whenever Mr. Kaft was announcing something. A random student would cough "Loser".
  • Friends had it at least twice: when Monica's correcting the title Ross was buying at the comics shop as a kid ("Seeing what kinda trouble Spider-Man got into that week" "*cough* Wonder Woman") and once when an old hater of Rachel reacts to her table manners ("*sneeze* Typical")
  • The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: When Cody was creating a laser for the science fair, Arwin "innocently" told him how to build it correctly. He wasn't supposed to tell him.

Arwin:Not *cough* quite! You *cough* need the puf*cough*fer gas!

    • Also, in the episode "A Prom Story":

Zack: I've got something special with Maddie. I love her, and she loves me. She just...doesn't know it yet.
Cody: *sneeze* Doofus!

  • Charles Ingram of the British Army once won (the original, UK version of) Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? with the help of a friend in the audience feeding him answers through coded coughs. Although these just took the form of numbers for the options, invariably for the many parodies this spawned he was shown to be using this trope.
  • The Big Bang Theory

Amy: Your mother thinks you might be losing your mind over me. As a neurobiologist, I was curious.
Sheldon: Well, rest assured I am in full possession of my faculties.
Leonard: *Pretending to sneeze* Twenty-five cats!
Sheldon's Mother: Oh, God bless you, dear.

  • Morecambe and Wise did a sketch in which Eric was supposed to be a 'Memory Man' who could answer any question put to him, but Ernie had to feed him the first answer (Arsenal - a soccer team) disguised by a cough. This became a Running Gag in which any time someone coughed, Eric would shout "Arsenal!"
  • Izzie Stevens of Grey's Anatomy says "sexual harassment!" in a sneeze when Mark Sloan refers to her as a "hot blonde."
  • The Supernatural episode "After School Special" starts with a girl in high school getting taunted with "*cough* Slut *cough* Slut *cough* Slut *cough*...", which leads her to take out her anger on a less popular girl for showing her some sympathy, which leads to her death at the hands of the Bully Hunter ghost possessing the unpopular girl.
  • In My Name Is Earl, a friend of Earl does this while calling him a snitch about three times without Earl catching on, so he just says it out loud. He then coughs for real and blames Earl for making him sick.

Web Original

  • cough* Rule Britannia!

"You don't go to my church, do you, child?"
"No, sir, my church doesn't have these confessional dealies. I go to Reverend White's church."
"*cough* Pedophile *cough*"


Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: In "Bart vs. Lisa vs. The Third Grade", the third-grade teacher remarks that Bart came from Krabappel's class (coughSLUTcough).
    • Also, in "She Used to Be My Girl," one-shot character Chloe remarks that she's slept with numerous famous people, including coughCLINTONcough.
  • King of the Hill: When Luanne was dealing with her irresponsible roommates.

"You know who else had anti-smoking laws? Who was it...oh, yeah -- Hitler!"

  • cough* Nazi! *cough*
  • In Doug's 1st Movie, the nerds Roger hires repeatedly insult him this way. He never catches on.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, it's exposed that Lois was once in a porno. At church, her peers do this trope, calling her things like "sinner" and "harlot". All except the last man, who says "*cough I'm actually sick*".
  • South Park
    • In Bebe's Boobs Destroy Society the other girls use this method to call Bebe a slut in the cafeteria.