Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sneezing Around the World

In the tail end of yesterday’s post, I wrote that Greek at some point used the word ptairo to mean “sneeze.” This is significant, just because ptairo kind of sounds like a sneeze — maybe along the lines of ptooie with a more explosive ending. So I got to thinking: Do other languages’ word for “sneeze” sound like sneezing? Using the magic of Google Translate, I’ve made a short list.

Whenever possible, I used the phonetic rendering of the word. Some languages such as Farsi, Arabic and Hebrew I left out because a phonetic spelling wasn’t offered on Google Translate. In many cases, I wasn’t sure if the word being translated was the noun or the verb — not all languages use the same word the way English does — but they’re all referring to the sudden rocketing of snot from the nasal passages.

Decide for yourself:
  • Afrikaans: nies
  • Albanian: teshtij
  • Albanian: p’rrshtal
  • Azerbaijani: asqırmaq
  • Belarusian: čchać
  • Bengali: hām̐ci
  • Bulgarian: kikhane
  • Chinese: dǎ pēntì
  • Croatian: kihati
  • Czech: kýchnout
  • Danish: nyse
  • Dutch: niezen
  • Esperanto: terni
  • Estonian: aevastama
  • Filipino: pagbabahin
  • Finish: aivastaa
  • French: éternuer
  • German: niesen
  • Greek: ftárnisma (and yes, I notice that this isn’t ptairo, but that first syllable isn’t not far off)
  • Gujarti: chīṅka
  • Hatian Creole: etènye
  • Hindi: chīṅka
  • Hungarian: tüsszentés
  • Indonesian: bersin
  • Italian: starnutire
  • Japanese: kushami
  • Korean: jaechaegi
  • Latin: sternuisse
  • Latvian: šķaudīt
  • Lithuanian: čiaudėti
  • Macedonian: kivnete
  • Maltese: tgħatas
  • Norwegian: nyse
  • Polish: kichać
  • Portuguese: espirrar
  • Romanian: strănut
  • Russian: chikhatʹ
  • Serbian: kijanje
  • Slovak: kýchnuť
  • Spanish: estornudar
  • Swahili: kuchafya
  • Swedish: nysa
  • Tamil: tum'mu
  • Thai: cām
  • Turkish: hapşırmak
  • Ukrainian: chkhaty
  • Vietnamese: nhảy mui
  • Welsh: tisian
  • Yiddish: nysn
My favorites? Czech and Turkish. The one I’m most disappointed in? Yiddish. Come on, Yiddish. With your rich library of throat-clearing sounds, I expected more from you.


  1. I have been more interested in the other language equivalents of "achoo." I remember when I worked in a Japanese school, I heard one the teachers say/sneeze "hakushon," and I thought to myself, "That's not what a sneeze sounds like! She's faking it!" But now I think about all the times I've said/sneezed achoo and if those were fake too.

    1. This is a good point. Let me see what I can do...

  2. "sneeze" is from Old English "*fnēosan", which lost the initial "f", then gained an initial "s". I assume that the German, Dutch, Yiddish, Afrikaans, and north Germanic words are related and lost the initial "f" as well.

  3. There is a PIE root for "sneeze": *skeu-, *kseu- (Pokorny page 953). This is possibly the source of the Hindi, Gujarati, and all the Baltic and Slavic words in your list.

    1. Goofy, had I endless amounts of money, I'd hire you as a remote etymology butler, who'd just make historical sense of whatever words I encountered. Thanks, as always, for the input.

    2. Remote Etymology Butler... that should be the name of my blog.

  4. Anonymous1:55 PM

    I'd be pretty darn interested in what, if anything, would be the proper saying after someone sneezes in all of these other languages; Gesundheit aside of course.

    1. And perhaps I'll do something with this, as I did with Carl's suggestion...

  5. Well, at least I can assure you that "nies" is the correct Afrikaans word. And that I am pretty sure I sneeze in English. Although it usually sounds more like "ker-splah" than "atchoo" ...

    1. I'm kind of hoping that someone, somewhere uses "ker-splah" as the technical term for sneezing.