The verb asphyxiate was coined in 1818 from the infrequently used noun asphyxia, which described the state of suffocation. That was taken from scientific Latin, but ultimately traces to an Ancient Greek word spelled asphyxia and pronounced something like aspooksee-uh, meaning "a stopping of the pulse" in general. It also means that literally: the term is composed out of the prefix a-, meaning "not", the root sphyxos, meaning "pulse", and the suffix -ia, which is just there for word-forming purposes. Sphyxos traces to the verb sphyzein, which had a definition of "to throb". That's of unknown origin, but there are cognates in Sanskrit and other languages that tell us it's pretty likely to be Indo-European.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.