Phlegm rhymes with gem, stem, and them…words that sound normal enough. In fact, it wouldn’t be such a disgusting word if it weren’t for that perfectly placed letter “g” — that most mucousy of consonants that we can only sound out by constricting the back of our throats. Yet it’s also the one letter in the word we do not pronounce — as if we DARE not pronounce it. For if we ever did, green sputum would gurgle from between our lips like something vile burping up from a sewer drain.
It is a perfect word. Perfectly disgusting. It’s very utterance sounds like we’re sneezing from our stomachs. Its very look on the page is akin to a mucous membrane, viscous and slimy with its dribbly ‘p’ and it’s globular ‘g’ dangling down from the line. Compared to its simple sister, “snot,” or its boring brother, “nasal discharge,” phlegm is some pretty potent pus. But it is also none of these things; phlegm refers specifically to respiratory sputum — it is a lung loogie, pure and simple. While it can be a symptom of any number of bronchial diseases, it is most commonly produced by smoke inhalation or excessive screaming, and therefore everywhere apparent at heavy metal concerts and gas chambers and taxicabs.
Expecting? Expectorating? You know Phlegm would make a good baby name. It’s just…apropos. Especially fun if the baby’s last name is Onyachin, or when you label his sippy cup.