Posted by Jamie Faulkner
Here in the US, when someone sneezes you almost always hear a “bless you” or “God bless you” within seconds. In almost every culture, it’s traditional to bless someone or wish them good health after a sneeze.
Sneezing is an obvious sign of illness, but ancient superstitions made it seem much worse than we know it to be today. According to The Guardian, some cultures believed that “a sneeze was believed to separate the soul from the body… and rid itself of the devil’s evil influences. The act of blessing a person subsequent to a sneeze was meant to act as a safeguard against the devil’s evil influences returning.”
The ancient Romans would say “Jupiter preserve you.” During the bubonic plague crisis in Europe, Pope Gregory the Great brought the phrase “God bless you” into more popular use.
And still today, cultures across the world have some version of this wish for health and salvation from the evil sneeze. Here are some examples:
सत्यम (sat’yam): which is a shortened version of सत्यम शिवम् सुन्दरम (sat’yam shivam sundaram) is Hindi for “Truth”, the longer version meaning “Truth is God is Beautiful.”
Klas bin gurruwan: This phrase comes from an aboriginal tribe from Australia, who were apparently big fans of Captain Obvious. This phrase translates to “you have released nose-water.” Too true.
Kihe, a mauli ola: This Hawaiian phrase takes a positive spin on things and celebrates the sneeze, translating to “Sneeze, and you shall live.”
À tes / vos souhaits: The French take sneezing very seriously, saying this phrase, meaning “to your wishes” after the first sneeze, à tes / vos amours, “to your loves” after the second sneeze, and qu’elles durent toujours, “that they last forever” after the third.
多喝点水 (Duō hē diǎn shuǐ): Although the Chinese don’t often comment after someone sneezes, if someone does utter this phrase, they are actually telling you to “drink more water,” which is great advice if you’re starting to get a cold!
Many languages have some version of “bless you” or “God bless you,” including Bendith in Welsh, Alhamdulillah in Indonesian, Dial inn in Irish, and Deus te crie (“God brings you up”) in Portuguese.
And even more have a phrase wishing one “health,” like German’s Gesundheit, also heard in the US, Albanian’sShëndet, Arabic’s صحة (Sahha), Bosnia and Croatian’s Nazdravlje, Terveydeksi in Finnish, Na zdrowie in Polish,Prosit in Norwegian and Salute and Salud in Italian and Spanish, respectively.
To learn more about responding to sneezes, Wikipedia has a whole list of what to say in cultures and languages all over the world.
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