Monday, August 27, 2012

Sneezing Around the World, Part Three

So I accidentally made a little series on sneezing. Excuse me.

In the first part, I noted how many languages’ words for sneeze actually sound like sneezing. And in the second, I listed as many worldwide onomatopoetic sneeze words as I could find. It would me sense to finish this little adventure into the realm of nasal explosions with a list of how different languages respond to sneezing, I felt, but it turns out that Wikipedia is already over that one — not only with every translation of bless you you could think of but also often with the polite response to the sneezer gives to the blesser.

Some highlights, however:
  • According to Wikipedia, deaf people using American Sign Language typically don’t respond to sneezes. Is that true? Does that make sense? I feel like it doesn’t, especially how the noise of the sneeze is hardly the most intrusive aspect of the act.
  • Japanese people also generally don’t respond to sneezes.
  • The Belarusian and Chechen responses to sneezing varies according to the gender of the sneezer.
  • Wikipedia translates the Cantonese sneeze response as “a great fortunate occurrence,” which is certainly an enthusiastic way to view sneezing.
  • The Czech response translates as “Bless God,” which seems counterproductive if you live in a culture where God traditionally issues all the benedictions.
  • An alternative Georgian sneeze response translates as “Million dollars” — “referencing the belief that one loses money while sneezing,” Wikipedia explains.
  • Germans don’t have to use Gesundheit, “health,” and can instead wish for contentment, wealth or beauty.
  • The Persian sneeze response translates as “May purity be bestowed upon you,” and although that’s nice, a tissue might be a more effective means of achieving that purity.
  • One of the Portuguese responses to sneezing is santinho, “little saint.”
  • In Vietnamese, if the sneezer is a small child, you can say something that translates as “rice and salt.”
Of course, in all this discussion of equivalents for bless you, I’d like to point back to my old post, “Fucking the Subjunctive,” in which I talk about how the subjunctive has not vanished from modern English. In fact, a form on the subjunctive mood is used in two common but antithetical English expressions: bless you and fuck you.

Finally, some people suffer from a rare disorder that causes them to sneeze uncontrollably after a large meal. No, really: It’s called snatiation, a portmanteau of sneeze and satiation.


  1. Anonymous1:41 PM

    As a sign language interpreter, Deaf people actually DO respond to sneezes. In fact, they respond in almost the same way hearing people do. When someone sneezes, they sign BLESS (a 'U' handshape that is given a cross-like motion) in the direction of the person that has sneezed.

    And now you know! And knowing is half the battle!

    1. Cool! Glad to know it. I wonder where the person who posted that apparently incorrect statement on Wikipedia got his or her info.

  2. Anonymous10:28 AM

    I think my favourite has to be "[que] Deus te abafe" said by some Portuguese speakers, which apparently translates as "may God put a cover/blanket over you".

    1. That is charming the best possible folksy way.