I HAVE a cold. My first of the winter. As I write, I’ve got a hacking cough and a cold sweat breaking out in beads on the top of my bald head. This morning when I awoke, my throat was so dry and sandpapery it felt like an Australian cricketer had been using it to tamper with his balls.

And I’m permanently croaky. I have a frog in my throat.

This is a curious phrase made curiouser still by the knowledge that the French don’t say frog. Apparently they say: “J'ai un chat dans la gorge” – a cat, and a male one at that, is stuck in their throats.

There are contradictory explanations about where our ranine phrase came from. One of my old dictionaries claims that in the days when people drank from streams there was a widespread fear of imbibing frogspawn and literally ending up with hoppity things in your throat, while another suggests there was a medieval medicinal belief that if you popped a frog in your mouth, it’s sticky secretions would cure any throat complaint.

There is another school of thought that the phrase is actually an Americanism, and it only became widely used over here after 1894 when Philadelphia-made Frog in Your Throat lozenges were marketed in this country. Frog in Your Throats were made from horehound, a pungent white-flowered plant from the mint family. It quickly became popular, marketed by chemists with extravagant window displays featuring toy frogs dressed up in weird country scenes.

Sadly, I can’t find an advert for Frog in Your Throat lozenges in The Northern Echo of this period, although horehound – it gets its name because it is a herb that looks like it’s covered in a white hoar frost – was clearly the ingredient of the decade. There were regular adverts for Hayman’s Balsam of Horehound – “the most certain and speedy remedy” – and for Budden’s Balsam of Horehound – “a positive cure for coughs and colds”.

For variety, there were James Epp’s Glycerine Jujubes which, according to no less an authority than Mr Epp himself, acted on the infected glands “the moment they are excited by the act of sucking, and the glycerine in these agreeable confections becomes actively healing”.

Ada Fletcher of 146 Lowson Street, Darlington, was prepared to endorse Owbridge’s Lung Tonic, which stopped her coughing. “I have spend pounds, and all to no good before I tried it,” she enthused. “It certainly is a wonderful medicine.”

A big advertiser on the front page of the Echo was chemist Francis H Cooke of Redcar, who produced his own brand Tamaritte Essence. He doesn’t say what Tamaritte might contain, but it was “the best remedial medicine for all diseases of throat, chest or lungs”. R Lindsay of the engineer’s office in Bishop Auckland Town Hall agreed, saying: “I was induced to try your Tamaritte, and after taking part of a bottle, I was completely cured.”

Tamaritte faded from the front page as the 1890s drew on, and was replaced by Angier’s Petroleum Essence, which was made in Boston in the US from “purified petroleum with hypophosphites”.

“A new remedy for stubborn coughs and chest affections, and one highly esteemed by the medical profession,” said the advert. It had the added bonus of curing constipation and diarrhoea.

I’m sure drinking purified petroleum would drive the frog from my croaky throat, but I think I prefer to suffer in manful silence and not mention to anyone that I have a very bad cold.