Where Did The Word “Achoo” Come From?

Every sneeze has a different ring to it, but there are only a few words in English that name the sound. Achoo is one of the most favored, but is it really a word?

Where did achoo come from?

This instance of onomatopoeia imitates the sound of sneezing. The first syllable mimics the quick intake of breath, while the second corresponds with the tone of the convulsive expulsion of air through the nose and mouth. Achoo is also considered an interjection, in the same class of words as ouch or gosh.

Other languages follow the same approach. A sneeze sound in Russian can be apchkhi; in Korean, achee.

In the medical world, ACHOO is an acronym for a sternutation disorder called Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helioophthalmic Outburst Syndrome that results in uncontrollable sneezing.

What about God bless you?

After a sneeze, there are a few common responses. God bless you (or bless you) and gesundheit are two. Gesundheit is German for “healthiness.”

As for the origin of God bless you, there are a number of ideas. There are superstitious beliefs that connect evil to sneezing, such as the idea that a sneeze releases a soul to the waiting grasp of evil spirits. Hence, a blessing is needed.

A false belief that originated during the Renaissance dictates that a sneeze causes the heart to momentarily stop. The blessing was a brief prayer that the heart would not fail completely.

There are numerous other tales that have to do with sneezing. For example, one folk saying asserts a sneeze means that someone is thinking amorously about you.

What are some alternatives to bless you?

If you’re not a fan of bless you, what should you say? In some countries, people tend to ignore sneezes (China and Japan, for example), but in most, there is some expectation of a response. To say these vary quite a bit is an understatement. 

If you’re looking for an alternative to bless you, we humbly propose one of these:

  • health (or recover): Since Gesundheit means “healthiness,” why not use the English word as a substitute? (You’ll never struggle to spell it.) The Dutch, Armenians, Greeks, Ukrainians, and many others use a version of their own word for health to acknowledge a sneeze. You might try salud (Spanish) or noroc (Romanian) to give your blessing a bit of flair. To your health and recover also have nice rings to them.
  • Live long: Again, there are multiple variations of this one, some longer than others. (One Telugu phrase offered up after a sneeze translates to “May you be blessed with a life without death.”) 
  • It’s the truth: The Czech, Slovenian, and Marathi languages use a phrase that translates to “it is true/truth,” while the Polish and Croatian languages use “truth” due to a superstition that sneezing means something the sneezer said is true.
  • You shall grow tall: This is the translation of the German Großwachsen. For a child, you might use May you grow up (as they do in Romania). 
  • Go away, kitten: This one might be the most creative of the responses. Serbians use this phrase with children for the most part, as a sneeze supposedly sounds like a cat’s cough. Hmm. We can’t say we disagree. (But how many cat videos should we watch to be sure? All the videos, right?)
  • Are you all right? After multiple sneezes, maybe you should simply pose a polite question. In Japan, sneezes are seldom noted, but they might inquire about someone’s health after a particularly noisy sneezing fit.