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Achoo! A Cross-Linguistic Look at Reactions to Sneezing

“God bless you!” In English, we’re used to giving our blessings to people who have just sneezed. However, invoking God (or at least blessings) after sneezing is not common across all languages. When responding to sneezing, other languages often use other themes, such as health, the weather, or nothing at all. Here’s a cross-linguistic look at reactions to sneezing.


Image via Tina Franklin / flickr

1. Health

The most common theme across languages is to make some reference to the sneezer’s health. In fact, in English, we often say Gesundheit!, which means “health” in German. Similarly, in Spanish, Salud! means “health”, and in Polish, Na zdrowie! translates to “Be healthy”. Overall, a large portion of the world’s languages react to sneezing by mentioning the sneezer’s health.

Do you know any German beyond “Gesundheit”? Use your skills in our free German level test!

2. God

The name of the Lord is another common reaction to sneezing. As mentioned before, the English language’s “God bless you” is a prime example of this. But it’s not just English: in Punjabi, ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ means “Glorious Lord”, and in Icelandic, Guð hjálpi þér! means “May God help you”.

3. Telling the truth

Particularly if the offense of sneezing is committed while somebody else is talking, it is customary in many languages for the interrupted speaker to affirm that they were telling the truth. In Russian, for instance, someone might react to sneezing by saying правду говорю (“I’m telling the truth”). In Croatian, one can simply say Istina!, which means “truth”.

4. The weather

In Dutch, the most common response to sneezing is Gezondheid!, which translates to “health”. Curiously, however, if somebody sneezes three times in a row, Dutch speakers can also say Morgen mooi weer, which means “The weather will be nice tomorrow”.

5. Growing

Especially when children sneeze, some languages make reference to the sneezer growing tall. In German, you can say Großwachsen! to a young sneezer, which tells him that he shall grow tall. In Romanian, too, Să creşti mare! (“May you grow up!”) is used as well, particularly if a child sneezes multiple times.

6. Nothing

Finally, particularly in East Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, it’s common to simply not react to sneezing at all.

So depending on what language you’re learning, tailor your response to sneezing accordingly — whether it be a reference to health, God, the weather, or ignoring the act completely.