How do you distort words into sounding sick, as in with the cold? I want it to be a really comical scene, but I'm not sure how to write it. Do I replace some letters with others or remove certain consonants?

  • Welcome to Writers! It's worth pointing out that this is similar to the problems faced when writing accents and dialect. Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 18:25
  • 1
    Just checking -- you're talking about things like "I hab a code"? Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 18:46
  • 2
    Bilbo at the Laketown banquet: "Thag you very buch."
    – dmm
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 21:12
  • 1
    "thang you very buch" is a perfectly good example picked up from Lord of the Rings Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 9:02

3 Answers 3


Many children's books have scenes where a character talks with an obstructed nose (e.g. head in bucket). Usually what they do is a combination of:

  • k, p, t => g, b, d
  • n => ng/g
  • m, v/f => b

This works well only if you restrict this to a sentence or two. Then it is funny. Otherwise it becomes tiresome to the reader.

  • Thanks, exactly what I was trying to find! Yes, it's really just for a tiny itsy obvious scene, so trouble there.
    – Lostone
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 22:51
  • I will also add that in the absence of such excellent rules as the above, you can simply pinch your nose closed and speak the sentence. How you say it is more or less the words you are looking for. We don't really speak that way when we have a cold, but it mimics the speech distortion you want. Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 0:33
  1. Find a recording device.
  2. Press record.
  3. Hold your nose tightly.
  4. Speak your dialogue. Add coughing, wheezing, and other effects as appropriate.
  5. Press stop.
  6. Press play.
  7. Transcribe.
  • 2
    The empiricist way is doubly amusing.
    – Mussri
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 9:46
  • When I do this, I pronounce my vowels and consonants perfectly normal. I sound different, but I wouldn't know how to reproduce that in writing.
    – user5645
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 10:03
  • @what If your normal speech sounds like you always have your nostrils clamped up, you may want to make an appointment with an ENT specialist. What you should be hearing is exactly what you spelled out in your answer above. Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 20:39
  • 1
    Ha ha, no, I don't sound like I always have my nostrils clamped up. I sound different when I hold my nose. The sound of my voice changes, but not my articulation. My "p" is still plosive and hard like any "p", not like a "b". To use one of the examples above, when I hold my nose I can articualte "Thank you very much" and "I have a cold" perfectly. Try it! I'm sure you can, too. Changing letters in writing is a literary device, and does not reflect what accutally happens when your nose is obstructed. Just like we don't talk italics when we emphasize a word or phrase.
    – user5645
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 20:46
  • 1
    @what: You can't just hold your nose. To properly simulate a cold, you have to stop up your entire sinus cavity with tissue. Push it in real good. Jam it in there with a chopstick. Then make that ENT appointment, 'cause you're now in serious trouble! (Hopefully there are no three-year-olds reading this.)
    – dmm
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 21:20

Messed-up speech is usually funnier on TV/stage/screen than in writing, because (#1) it's hard to figure out what the person is saying, and (#2) the comic effect depends on the readers' skill at rendering messed-up words (either out loud or in their heads). But, if you want to try it, give yourself the affliction the character has, say his/her lines, and write down phonetically what you say. Literally stuff your nose with something for a stuffy nose. Prop your mouth open with a carrot for a broken jaw. Grab and hold half your face for a paralysis (which better be temporary, or your dialogue will NOT be funny).

So, I would go light on the distorted speech. Probably it would be funnier if the sick character were a bit loopy, either because of the sickness or the meds. Then you can have lots of inanity, non-sequiturs, inappropriate sharing, emoting, melodrama, etc. People who think/insist they're dying when they're obviously merely sick are a staple of comedy.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.