cough to

I’m not going to link to this phrase that I came across, as it may well just be an editing error and not worth naming and shaming over, but—does this sound right to you?

… to cough to the fact that the…

It sounds terrible to me, and I’m not sure exactly what went wrong. I know that cough can mean confess, but I’ve never seen it used with as cough to something. I think I’ve only seen it in a form something like he’ll cough the minute they get him down to the station or if nobody coughs we’ve got no leads. On the other hand, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang has an entry for cough to, although (a) it’s late-19th-century, and (2) I infer from the entry that a yegg might cough on a fellow criminal, or cough to the coppers, and I’m still not feeling that one coughs to crimes or facts.

I wonder if the writer confused cough with cop there—I could easily imagine having to cop to the fact that I screwed up. It’s odd that cough and cop sound so similar and can both mean confess, but have different usages. The OED does not appear to have cop to in its many and complicated varieties and shades of meaning for cop. It’s an Americanism, I believe, but of course the OED includes Americanisms. Cassell’s does have cop to as a variant of cop for, both meaning confess, and also has a variant of cop out meaning confess as well, presumably from copping a plea—the person cops to (or cops out to) a lesser crime rather than claiming total innocence. Of course, declaring the derivation of slang (or indeed any) term is a mug’s game no matter how you look at it, and with all the various meanings and slang uses of cop, it could be anything.

What do y’all think?


One Response to “cough to”

  1. Jed

    I would have assumed it was an eggcorn for cop to. But I’ve been hearing cop to all my life, and have never before encountered cough meaning “confess.” (So thanks for the new-to-me word!)


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