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This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

Over the back fence, nearer the creek, lived an old couple whom Dexter and Athena had never seen but whom they referred to as Mister and Missus F****n’. They drank, they smashed things, they hawked and swore and vomited, they cursed each other to hell and back.

One meaning of "hawk" is "to sell goods" but I don't think this meaning works in context.

Does it mean:

  1. They hit each other?

  2. They spat?

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  • 1
    hawk means to spit, but as far as I know, it doesn't mean to hit somebody. See dictionary. – Peter Shor Mar 27 at 13:39
  • "Hawk" actually means to advertise something for sale, it doesn't refer to the sale itself. – Acccumulation Mar 28 at 3:31
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In context, it surely means clearing phlegm from the throat and spitting.

There are a few meanings of the word "hawk", but just two main meanings (or collections of related meanings) as an intransitive verb, and one of them doesn't really fit here:

to hunt birds by means of a trained hawk (see hawk entry 1 sense 1) : to practice falconry
to soar and strike like a hawk (see hawk entry 1 sense 1)
birds hawking after insects

to utter a harsh guttural sound in or as if in trying to clear the throat
to make a harsh coughing sound in clearing the throat

Given the context of people who are known for their vulgar and impolite behaviour, spitting would fit right in with swearing, drinking, and vomiting.

The meaning couldn't be anything to do with selling goods, because in that context "hawk" is a transitive verb: it has an object. People can hawk their wares, but (in this context) they can't just hawk. Your other suggested meaning, they hit each other, isn't one of the meanings of the word "hawk" as far as I know.

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  • Where I grew up, kids would "hawk a loogie"... The "loogie" being the "hawked up" phlegm. – rrauenza Mar 27 at 21:55
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    I thought the spitting sense was spelled "hock". Merriam webster seems to have it under both spellings. – Nick Matteo Mar 27 at 22:26
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Interesting info on where "hawk a loogie" might come from, which answers the original question as well I think.

To hawk a loogie is a slang phrase meaning to expectorate a glob of phlegm from the back of the throat. It comes in many variants. Hawk is often hock or hang, and loogie can be looey, louie, or lunger. The phrase is the coming together of two words, one quite old and the other rather new.

The old one is hawk or hock. It’s probably echoic in origin and dates to the late sixteenth century. From Richard Mulcaster’s 1581 treatise on education, Positions, which also contains medical advice relevant to bringing up young boys:

Of all these diuersities in walking the moderate is most profitable, which alone of all, that I rekened, hath no point either of to much, or of to litle, and yet it is both much, and strayning, which be the two properties of an healthfull walke. It is good for the head, the eyes, the throte, the chest, when they be out of frame: so the partie spit not blood. For distilling from the head, for difficultie of breath, for a moyste and and pained stomacke, wherin the nurriture either groweth bitter or corrupteth: for the iaundise, costisnesse, fleeting of the meat in the stomacke, stopping of the vrine, ache of the hippes, and generally for all such, as either neede to prouoke any superfluitie from the vpper partes downward, or to send that packing, which is already in waye to depart. Now to the contrarie it is naught for agues, bycause it encreaseth heat, and so conseque[n]tly the disease: for the falling euill, for hauking vp of blood: and in the time when one is making water.

Loogie is of more recent vintage, dating to the latter half of the twentieth century, at least in writing. It appears in Carlo Curti’s 1967 biography of movie mogul Spyros Skouros, Skouras: King of Fox Studios:

“Out kid!” he ordered as one of his bodyguards put me in an armlock. I spit a lugey on him and he slapped my face.

The phrase is recorded in student slang in the journal Current Slang from 1970:

Hang a louie, v. To spit on someone.—College students, both sexes, Minnesota.

And another example is found in Julian Moynahan’s 1979 novel Where the Land and Water Meet:

In the old neighborhood, by Raymond Street Park, to cough up and expectorate heavy phlegm from the back of the throat was to “hawk a lunger.” When you did it, the remark to make was “Go pick the bones out of that one!”

Not a very pleasant image.

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