Achoo… Bless you?

April 9, 2015 9:59 am

Someone next to us sneezes and no matter where you come from, you will consider saying something because it’s polite. That is a curious and “almost” universal cultural habit. We don’t do the same, for instance, when someone coughs. In some languages this kind of responses even refer to God, like “(God) bless you” in English-speaking countries, or the Spanish “Jesús”. You might think, “Oh my God, I thought I was getting a simple cold and someone is commending me to God, should I pray something?” In many other languages these responses are not references to religion but to “long life” or “health”. Anyway, why do we do this? What is the origin of saying these kinds of things after someone’s sneeze? There are many legends about sneezes. Some said, for example, that sneeze used to be associated with some diseases and epidemics like the “Black Death” or bubonic plague. Other superstitions held that the sneeze itself was an expulsion of a demon from inside your body. It was also believed that your heart stopped during a sneeze. Enough reasons to wish the best after a sneeze.

LanguageUsual responsesMeaning in English
BulgarianНаздраве“To your health.” or “Cheers.”
CroatianNa zdravlje
“To your health.”
CzechNa zdraví or Pozdrav Pánbůh or Je to pravda“To your health.” or “Bless God” or “It is true.”
DanishProsit“May it help”
DutchGezondheid, or if the person has sneezed three times, (Drie keer) morgen mooi weer“Health!”, the equivalent of ‘Gesundheit’ said in English, or if the person has sneezed three times, “(Three times) the weather will be nice tomorrow.”
English(God) bless you, or Gesundheit
“(God) bless you”
EstonianTerviseks
“For your health.”
FinnishTerveydeksi
“For health!”
Frenchà tes / vos souhaits after the first sneeze, à tes / vos amours after the second sneeze, and qu’elles durent toujours after the third. More archaically, one can say Dieu te/vous bénisse or Santé.“To your wishes.” after the first sneeze, “To your loves.” after the second, and “that they last forever” after the third. More archaically, the translations are “God bless you” and “Health,” in that order.
GermanGesundheit“Health!”
Greekστην υγεία σου (steen ygeia su) or γείτσες (geitses)
“To your health!” or “Healths!”
HungarianEgészségedre!
“To your health!”
IrishDia linn or Dia leat or Deiseal which may be a form of Dia sealThe first two both mean “God be with us.” The last means “May it go right,” but might be a form of “God with us for a while.”
Italian
Salute! 
 “Health!”
LatvianUz veselību“To your health.”
Lituano Į sveikatą  “To your health.”
MalteseEvviva  “May he/she live” or “long live”
PolishNa zdrowie! or Sto lat!
“To your health!” or “Live a hundred years!”
PortugueseSaúde or Deus te crieThese mean, in order: “I wish you great health” or “God brings you up”
Romanian
Sănătate 
“To your health” or “To your luck”
Slovak
Na zdravie 
 “To your health.”
SlovenianNa zdravje or  Bog pomagaj“To your health” or “God help to you.”
SpanishSalud or Jesús“To your health” or “Jesus”
SwedishProsit“To your health”

 

As we can see, the responses always refer to health or God and the response to the responses is always “thank you”. But, what about the noise that we make? We could assume that it is the same in every part of the world, however, one study says that this sound is a cultural habit that we learn and it is different depending on your language. According to this study, this is why deaf people don’t make any sound when they sneeze, just the sounds associated with the movement of air and nothing more. Whether or not our sounds are different from each other, what in fact is different is their onomatopoeias, the graphic representations of these words. In French, for instance, they sneeze as “atchoum”, in Italian as “acciù”, and in English as “achoo”.

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Sources:

Origins of bless you.
Sounds of sneezes.
Table of the different responses
.


Written by Isabel Beldad
Journalist and Social Media Expert
Communication Trainee at TermCoord

 

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  • champacs

    It’s not actually “a universal cultural habit”. I’ve lived in Korea, where it’s normal not to say anything when someone sneezes.