“A-CHOO!” — “Bless you.” Sneezing and responding in different languages …

A-TISH-oo! Yes, when we sneeze, we sneeze in our own language, as you can see in James Chapman’s illustration above. It’s funny how some cultures end their sneezes with an “oo” sound and some with an “ee” (and a few even have consonants; like the Portuguese “atCHIM,” the French offer “atCHOUM”; the Filipinos add a little music, with their “hatSING”).

And then, in most countries (but not all), we respond to those who have just sneezed with words and phrases that offer simple blessings and wishes for good health or a long life. But not always … In English-speaking countries, the common response is “bless you”, or — less commonly in North America — “Gesundheit”, the German word for health and the response to sneezing in German-speaking countries. In non-English-speaking cultures, the response is most often to do with health, long life, or summoning the blessings of God for the same. A commonly held folk belief has it that a sneeze proves the truth of whatever was said just before it, and this is reflected in certain responses. In some Asian cultures, such as China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan, people don’t generally respond to sneezes at all. Below are a selection of national sneeze-replies that don’t follow the general rule of saying blessings — or seeking God’s blessings — but offer a different and sometimes more quirky reaction to the universal a-TISH-oo …

Amharic: ይማርሽ yimarish for female or ይማርህ yimarih for male. “May God forgive you!”

BurmeseTa Baw Pout Pi Lar?  “Understood?” or “Got it?”

Cantonese: ‘大吉利事/”好嘅”. “A great fortunate occurrence.” or “A good one.”

Colombia (and other parts of Latin America): Salud after the first sneeze, dinero after the second and amor after the third. “Health”, “money” and “love.”

DanishProsit. “May it help.”

German: (used solely for children, usually after the usual “Gesundheit” for the first and/or second response): Großwachsen!  “You shall grow tall!”

Igbo: Ndo. “Sorry.”

Marathi: सत्य आहे  “It’s the Truth”

Pashto: صبر  Sah-bur. “Patience”

Romanian: (for children) Să creşti mare! “May you grow up!”

Russian:  (if someone sneezes while talking) правду говорю. Pravdu govor’u. “I’m telling the truth.”

Serbian: (mostly used with children) Pis Maco. “Go away kitten,” as sound of sneezing often sounds like cat’s cough

VietnameseCơm muối. “Rice with salt.”

(But usually nothing is said in Vietnamese. The post-sneeze silence is golden, it seems.)


Hat-tip to Peter Harvey for illustration and idea