Now clear your throat


As England moves into its second month with a ban on smoking in public spaces, a group of words inscribed in faded gold letters on a shop doorway in London's famous Fleet Street caught my eye. They read: "Let us store your cigars in custom-built humidifiers."

How ironic it is, I thought, that some people should devise methods to keep rolls of dried leaves moist which some other people willingly pay for and then set light to those leaves to burn off the moisture and inhale its fumes to make their throats and voices dry. (All this, of course, while I was inhaling the "normal" fumes of a busy city street.)

The efficiency of the mechanism half way down our throats by which folds of tissue slap together hundreds of times a second to produce the basis of any sound we make, is second to none.

As if those vocal cords - which lie from front to back across our throats behind our Adam's Apple - didn't have enough to do keeping us humming, talking, shouting, singing and screaming all our lives - their edges also have to be able to clamp tight shut in an instant to prevent us from choking or to trap air inside us to give us the power to make the sudden effort of lifting or pushing.

We take for granted the fact that our voices will respond to our every mood and allow us to sound intimate and enticing at one minute and raucous and waspish the next.

But were it not for those amazing two and a half centimetre long valve seals, no weight lifting would be possible. No natural childbirth would be possible and not one of us would have been able to draw breath and cry out news of our arrival in the world.

The voice box is as crucial to us as a gear box is to the smooth running of a car. Would you force unclean fuel into a car and expect the gear box to show no signs of strain? No way!

But voice boxes get all sorts of contaminants forced down into them and then we wonder why they won't respond instantly to any and every gear change we choose to make.

So why do we treat them so badly?

Well for one thing, though the muscles around them may feel aches and soreness, the vocal cords - even when scarred - do not. They battle on, rarely silencing us completely and hardly ever losing their ability to stop us from choking.

Because they cause us no pain we expect our voices to run on fresh air. And guess what? That's exactly what they do.

So flush them with a deep, fresh air intake as often as possible and breathe that air in through you nose so that it will be warm and filtered by the time it gets down behind your Adam's Apple.

Drink often too - though because alcohol is a drying agent as well as a doping agent it's best not to add too much of that to your liquid intake. Oh, and eat dry, scratchy food from time to time to scarify your throat.

In fact, if you happen to be in Fleet Street, you could try a slice of "Real Doorstep Toast" which is advertised in gold lettering in the doorway of another of its shops.

Keep in mind however, that if you want to smoke one of the humidified cigars in between bites these days - you're going to have to stand outside on the doorstep to do so.

more articles

About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.

Older Comments

When smoking a cigar, the smoke NEVER goes beyond the mouth. A cigar is puffed and not inhaled into the lungs thusly not going past the vocal chords.

Rob Barraco Syracuse,NY

Thanks for that, Rob and happy puffing.

But when drying agents are present anywhere in the oral cavity, extra mucus forms to protect its lowest depths and can all too easily rough-up the puff of sounding breath that emerges as the vocal cords change from forming a fool proof backstop into pliant instigators of the next syllable we plan to speak.

Janet Howd

Janet Howd