it took him five minutes to cough.

ian_english

Senior Member
Chinese-Shanghai
I was watching "The Prestige". In one scene, Michael Caine said "I knew a sailor once, got tangled in the rigging. We pulled him out, but it took him five minutes to cough. He said it was like going home." Did he mean he coughed for five minutes or did he mean it was five minutes before he coughed?
Thanks.
 
  • Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Owlman is probably right but I wonder if perhaps he meant that the sailor was so out of breath as a result of having got tangled that it was five minutes before he could get a cough out. (The five minutes in this case is probably an exaggeration.)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Google seems to indicate that sailor in the story nearly drowned, and that the story (with its reference to "it was like going home") was told to comfort someone whose wife had just drowned.

    If that's correct, then I think the idea is that the sailor was so near death that it was five minutes before he coughed. EDIT: I've changed my mind: see post 6 below.
     
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    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    To be honest I wondered if it meant "to die" ... "he said it was like going home". Is there any discussion of mortality in the rest of the conversation?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The more I think about it, the more I think suzi's right, and the idea is "it took him five minutes to die".

    I suspect I misread the bits I found on Google and the story wasn't about a sailor who nearly died from drowning, it was about a sailor who did die from drowning.
     

    ian_english

    Senior Member
    Chinese-Shanghai
    The more I think about it, the more I think suzi's right, and the idea is "it took him five minutes to die".

    I suspect I misread the bits I found on Google and the story wasn't about a sailor who nearly died from drowning, it was about a sailor who did die from drowning.
    I think the sailor didn't die, Loob. The sailor should be the one who later said it was like going home. I think your first post was right. The story was told to comfort someone whose wife just died.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I originally assumed that the sailor in the story said those words later, ian; now, I assume that he said them during the five minutes.

    Anyway, whether "cough" means "expel matter from the lungs" or "die", I think it's fairly clear that the meaning of "it took him five minutes to cough" is "he coughed after five minutes":).
     
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    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I think it's fairly clear that the meaning of "it took him five minutes to cough" is "he coughed after five minutes"
    Thanks for clearing that up, Loob. It's such an odd thing to say that I thought this might be a British alternative for "He coughed for five minutes."
     

    ian_english

    Senior Member
    Chinese-Shanghai
    I originally assumed that the sailor in the story said those words later, ian; now, I assume that he said them during the five minutes.

    Anyway, whether "cough" means "expel matter from the lungs" or "die", I think it's clear that the meaning of "it took him five minutes to cough" is "he coughed after five minutes":).
    You mean cough can mean die? I didn't see that in my dictionary. Maybe it's not a common usage of "cough"?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    You're right, it's not a common usage, ian. And I'm still not 100% certain it's the intended meaning here. The story works with the normal meaning of "cough", too.
     

    Yanglish

    New Member
    English-USA
    Given the context of this wonderful film - maybe that has something to do with magic. I mean slang.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    It's a cliche to say that "death is just like going home, therefore we have nothing to fear". I think probably "To cough" = to croak = to die.
     

    joanvillafane

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    This is how I read it (not sure if it matches what others have said, but I don't think so):
    It took him five minutes to cough - means for five minutes they thought he was dead. He finally was able to cough, to breathe and afterward he said that "being dead" for those five minutes was "like going home."
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    He could have said those words during the 5 minutes it took him to "croak". He would have realised he was dying. It's the sort of "heartwarming" story that people claim to have witnessed, without it necessarily being true.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    This is how I read it (not sure if it matches what others have said, but I don't think so):
    It took him five minutes to cough - means for five minutes they thought he was dead. He finally was able to cough, to breathe and afterward he said that "being dead" for those five minutes was "like going home."
    Yes, that's how I read it originally. I'm still wavering between that interpretation and the "cough = die" one:D
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Although "to cough" = "to die" is by no means uncommon, it cannot mean that here. The sailor went into the sea. If he was drowned before he was pulled out there would be no period of waiting, or an opportunity for him to speak; he'd be dead. People who are nearly drowned don't breathe again until they cough out the water in their lungs. While 5 minutes is clearly an exaggeration (the brain stores a very small amount of oxygen), the description must be of the time lag between saving him and his breathing again. Why else would Cutter say "We pulled him out, but it took him five minutes to cough."?

    As it happens, many people interviewed after near-drowning have commented on how peaceful they felt after they had lungs full of water and were no longer trying to breathe. From personal experience at simulated high altitude, I can tell you that hypoxia (lack of oxygen) could be described as "like going home" - one loses all anxiety before becoming unconscious (we didn't take our trainees that far!).

    If Cutter was talking of a death (to cough) it could be "We pulled him out, but although we got all the water out of him, he coughed anyway."
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    One more reaction: when you nearly drown the people helping you pound on your chest and blow into it to try to grt the water out and air into your lungs, right? At first nothing happens and the person still seems dead. However, if they are lucky they will come back to life and you know that because they "cough" out some water as that first sign of life.
     

    Sparky Malarky

    Moderator
    English - US
    One more reaction: when you nearly drown the people helping you pound on your chest and blow into it to try to grt the water out and air into your lungs, right? At first nothing happens and the person still seems dead. However, if they are lucky they will come back to life and you know that because they "cough" out some water as that first sign of life.
    I agree with this, and I just want to add that I've never heard "to cough" used to mean "to die." Maybe others have - for all I know it's common in other parts of the world - but I've never heard it. "To croak," yes, certainly. But not "to cough."
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    No. It was me who first mentioned it ( cough = to die) and I would not say I had heard it used - just that it would not surprise me if that WAS what the author meant. Other ideas that have been posted in here since sound far more credible!
     
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