In my family we have always said “Gesundheit!” in response to a sneeze, and it occurred to me to wonder how far back that went. The OED takes it back to 1914 (Everybody’s Feb. 484 ‘Saved your life,’ he murmured mechanically, as one suffixes ‘Gesundheit’ to a sneeze), but the entry is from 1972, and I figured I could antedate it with Google Books. But a search limited to 1800-1913 turned up only references to German uses. 1890:

Oh! the sneezing that year in Germany. The upper ten thousand sneezed (Genesung!); the middle hundred thousand sneezed (Gesundheit!), and the lower thousand thousand sneezed (Helf Gott!)


people often wish good health to the person sneezing: Ihre Gesundheit ! or Gesundheit ! or (less respectfully) wohl bekomm’s ! or prōsit !


A German sneezes with all his might, and if there is a compatriot within hearing he says, ‘Gesundheit.’


Few of us realize when we say “God bless us”, or “Gesundheit” in German, when a person sneezes, that it is the evolution of an old superstition

So 1914 would seem to be at least close to the origin of the use in English; the question is why did it become so widespread when World War I put paid to so many items of German influence? You’d think anyone who said “Gesundheit” during the war would have gotten the “kaiser-lover” treatment and desisted forthwith.

Also, I discovered the Wikipedia article Response to sneezing, which is full of interesting things — not least that in Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean, “nothing is generally said after a sneeze except for when expressing concern when the person is sick from a cold or otherwise.” Areal feature!


  1. Searching chroniclingamerica I find:

    1887-07-09 ascribed by Edward L Wakeman to Pennsylvania Dutch mothers, who I guess were still German speakers then?

    1903-10-31 review of Funk & Wagnall’s New Standard Dictionary:

    Some of the new words look queer in English, like “gesundheit,” when you sneeze.

    It’s in F+W 1902 Addenda

  2. There’s also this 1890 ad for Montgomery Ward in Chicago:

    Our stock of Groceries is complete, even to Pickled Whang-doodles—and we have saddles that will fit any Gazoontite on earth.

  3. The ad ends with, “Come in and expectorate tobacco juice on the floor or make yourself at home in any way agreeable to yourself.”

  4. Fascinating! I dunno about the 1890 ad, but the New Standard Dictionary review is a nice antedate, and makes it clear that it goes back to more or less the turn of the century.

  5. An interesting cultural difference with sneezing is that in some cultures, like in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the sneezer is expected to apologize after sneezing; that was something I as a German had to get used to doing when I lived there. Now it has become second nature and I even do it in languages and in company where it isn’t expected.

  6. “Come in and expectorate tobacco juice on the floor or make yourself at home in any way agreeable to yourself.”

    Of pedantic interest: that would not be expectoration sensu stricto, since the tobacco juice issues from the mouth and not from further down.

    Here is the clearest entire PDF version I found, of that edifying contribution to letters: Shooting on upland, marsh, and stream (19 MB).

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    Noetica’s “sensu stricto” sense is sense 1 here; the 1890 usage is sense 2 here. Apparently the decline of Latinity among the tobacco-chewing classes of American society was already well underway by then, making it easier for the English sense of words to drift from an etymology that was no longer transparent.

  8. When I was little, I picked up saying, “Bleshoo!” when someone sneezed. Later, I think after I heard my German-American-Canadian-American grandfather say it, I learned, “Gesundheit!” as an alternative. However, at that point my mother explained it in terms of a folk belief that someone’s soul separated from their body when they sneezed, and and the devil might come to try and gtab it; so an invocation was needed to reattach body and soul. However, from the context, I misapprehended that “Gesundheit!” was the explicitly religious expression. (It was German. I had no idea what it meant.) Only when I was in middle school did I realize I had been saying, “Bless you!” all my life, and I immediately switched expressions.

  9. Yes, JWB. And SOED for expectorate (I am for temporarily without my OED access):

    †1 verb trans. Of a medicine: enable (sputum) to be expelled from the chest or lungs. E17–L18.
    2 verb trans. Eject from the throat or bronchial passages by coughing, hawking, etc. M17.
    E. B. Browning A woman expectorated blood violently as an effect of the experiment.
    3 verb refl. & intrans. Relieve one’s feelings. arch. M17.
    4 verb intrans. Clear one’s throat or bronchial passages of sputum; clear one’s mouth of saliva, spit. E19. [bold added]

    For non-verbs, within that entry:

    expectoration: the action or an act of expectorating or spitting; expectorated matter:
    E17. expectorative noun & adjective (rare) †(a) noun = expectorant noun; (b) adjective of or marked by expectoration: M17.
    expectorator noun †(a) = expectorant noun;(b) a person who expectorates or spits: L17.

    The separate entry for expectorant is concerned only with sputum, whose entry confines it to non-buccal production:

    Medicine. Thick mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract esp. in certain diseases of the lungs, chest, or throat; a mass or quantity of this.

    Euw, as they say.

  10. First OED cite for c. intransitive. gen. To expel saliva (sometimes mixed with chewing tobacco, betel nut, etc.) from the mouth; to spit”

    1823 Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. Mar. 368/1 No man has a right to expectorate publicly in a high wind.

    And quite right too.

  11. ktschwarz says

    mollymooly, those links are great. Paging through the Funk & Wagnalls, I came to a detailed section on pronunciation with a note (p. 2196) showing that although they have the NORTH-FORCE distinction, they are aware that there is a merger in progress:

    (ō is the vowel of “no”; ɵ̄ (barred o with macron) is the vowel of “law”; ᴜ is the vowel of “but”)

    Variant ō > ɵ̄ : ōr is varying in England toward ɵ̄. Some phonetists do not recognize an ōr, but pronounce shore shɵ̄ᴜ and pronounce oar and or, four and for, mourn and morn, alike.

  12. Via
    — Richmond VA Item, 29 August 1900: ”Gezundheit’ sez my daughter ‘Lizabeth. She’s been takin’ a term in German at th’ high school, an’ they always sez ‘Gezundheit’ when a feller sneezes just fer politeness.

    This was in a syndicated humor column widely published in other newspapers. yields no other instances when searching for keywords gezundheit and sneeze pre-1901. Gezundheit solo brings up unrelated uses mostly in German papers published in the US.

    But even after 1900, there are only a handful of results for the combined keywords, even though this response to a sneeze came into general usage. There just were not many occasions to mention this in a newspaper.

  13. Thanks!

  14. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Possibly a myth, but I’ve been told that in the middle ages the belief was that somebody other than the sneezer had to recite all of the Pater Noster before it was safe to sneeze again. Because devils and souls.

    In Danmark we say ‘prosit which has fewer syllables than Gesundheit or indeed the Pater Noster.

  15. What do people say in Yiddish?

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    I am used to “prosit” or the derived “prost” in a (southern) German context as exclusively a thing you say in an alcohol-drinking context. Obviously saying “to your health” and functional equivalents are cross-culturally common in the boozing context, but I’m curious as to whether “prosit” remains a thing you would say in response to a sneeze anywhere south of Denmark today. Or, for that matter, if there’s anywhere in the Teutonophone world where you say “Gesundheit” while clinking beer glasses.

  17. What do people say in Yiddish?

    According to the Wikipedia article linked in the last paragraph of the post: “זײַ געזונט (zay gezunt), צו געזונט (tsu gezunt), אסותא (asuse).” The Weinreich dictionary gives the second (tsu gezunt).

  18. The classical Greeks believed that sneezes could be positive omens sent by the gods. In The Odyssey, Penelope, after explaining her commitment to wait for her husband’s return, adds:

    Didn’t you notice that my son sneezed a blessing on all I had said? May this mean that death is inevitable for all the Suitors!

    Xenophon also mentions in Anabasis that after he laid out one of his proposals before the assembled Ten Thousand, one of the men sneezed, and he pointed to this as a positive omen. That happened very shortly after Xenophon (previously not even a formal officer in Cyrus’s force, although a personal friend and protege of one of the generals, Proxenus) has been elected as one of the Ten Thousand’s new generals, after the original five generals and many secondary officers had been lured to a meeting with the Lydian satrap Tissaphernes and killed. So the sneeze helps to validate Xenophon’s proposals and cement his authority in an extremely precarious situation.

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    Catullus 45 refers to lucky sneezing, but the girl in question is Greek even if the boy has a good Latin name. Also, the propitious sneezer is Amor, who is probably Greek too, I expect.

  20. For more on classical sneezing, I recommend ‘The Omen of Sneezing’ by Pease.

  21. tsu gezunt

    That explains the identical Modern Hebrew, לַבְּרִיאוּת labri’ut ‘to health’. אָסוּתָא asuta (Aramaic ‘health’) is something I’ve seen in older books but never heard.

  22. I think, in Russia too, sneezing when someone speaks is considered a sign of agreement. I might be misremembering something. It’s not a very strong superstition.

  23. “наздраве” “to health” in Modern Bulgarian also, as in Modern Hebrew.

  24. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    FWIW, in my parts of Denmark prosit is only for sneezing, for drinking and clinking of glasses it’s exclusively skål. (Any intimation that that’s a reference to the skulls of the English from which the Vikings drank their mead is scurrilous fake news. But they’d totally have done it).

  25. Definitely an American thing – Gesundheit.

    I have a vague recollection of first hearing it in the 1980s in the sitcom “Benson” (or was it because there was a german character who usec to sprinkle herconversation with German words???)

    Here in Australia, it’s always “Bless you!”

  26. Definitely an American thing – Gesundheit.

    That’s what I had assumed, and when I started writing this post I mentioned it was US. But then the OED entry didn’t have any geographical restriction, so I was confused and afraid and deleted the mention.

  27. @Brett: on the subject of misunderstanding these things, as a very young exchange student in France it took me quite a while to figure out that “à tes souhaits” was not onomatopoeia, like saying “achoo” back at someone who’s sneezed. (Which I found weird and annoying, but hey, cultural differences!)

  28. David Marjanović says

    prosit which has fewer syllables than Gesundheit

    Upper German dialects excepted as usual 🙂

    I am used to “prosit” or the derived “prost” in a (southern) German context as exclusively a thing you say in an alcohol-drinking context.

    Plus Prosit Neujahr! in the New Year concert of the Vienna Philharmonics; that may be taken out of the custom of drinking sparkling wine (not usually champagne specifically) the midnight before.

    Due to the aforementioned decline in Latinity, BTW, prosit gets final stress.

    I’m curious as to whether “prosit” remains a thing you would say in response to a sneeze anywhere south of Denmark today. Or, for that matter, if there’s anywhere in the Teutonophone world where you say “Gesundheit” while clinking beer glasses.

    Never encountered either. Drinking is “upon”, though: auf die Gesundheit! is imaginable – but it would count as an outright toast, not as a boilerplate formula.

    “à tes souhaits”

    …Wait, that’s still the “lucky omen” thing!

    Surrounded by barbarians, the French continue to drink their breakfast drinks out of bowls and treat sneezes as signs of good luck. I must say I’m impressed. What next? Garum?

  29. John Cowan says

    (Any intimation that that’s a reference to the skulls of the English from which the Vikings drank their mead is scurrilous fake news. But they’d totally have done it).

    /me imagines a bunch of anglophones lifting their glasses and saying “Shell!”

  30. Due to the aforementioned decline in Latinity, BTW, prosit gets final stress.

    I wasn’t sure whether to believe you — all my reference works have initial stress — but then I went to Wiktionary and found “IPA(key): /ˈproːzit/”… and the audio file has a guy saying /proˈziːt/! I wonder when the change occurred?

  31. My father said gesundheit (kazoom-tight to my infant ears) despite not being American. Perhaps a tribute to the one year of German he took in secondary school before the teacher took sick and left.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Actually, I suspect the final stress of Neujahr (…which may itself require an explanation…) got copied. Prosit is rare otherwise. (And in the formula the i is short. Also, Austria, so no [z]. Video here.)

    Prost does occur, the verb is even zuprosten, and evidently that comes from Prosit with initial stress.

  33. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Doesn’t have quite the ring, does it, JC? Weak-at-the-knees shibilant, I ask you! Another just-so story is that skoal was taken up by the English court after a visit by some Danish king or other, not knowing what the other side was imagining when they said that.

    And as indicated upstream, we Danes have had no truck with dislatinate German aberrations and stress prosit properly. (Going back far enough, I assume pro was its own word and as such both halves had monosyllabic stress. Which I have no idea how would have worked. But in university / church Latin prosit would belong to the conjugation of prodesse, of course).

  34. evidently that comes from Prosit with initial stress.

    So nobody says Prosit that way any more? You write as if it’s purely historical (and possibly out of living memory).

  35. PlasticPaddy says
    These are a pukka bayrisches Blasorchester despite the “Anglo” name
    Accent on first syllable, unenthusiastic hardening of s.

  36. Prosit is rare (and has been rare for a long time); it simply sounds pretentious. Those who still use it, occasionally, are definitely a subset of those who have enough latinity to know the morphology of prodesse, and I have never heard anyone stress it on the second syllable; that’s definitely an aberration. [z], on the other hand, is the usual pronunciation.

    I have never heard Neujahr stressed on the second syllable.

  37. You and DM seem to hang out in different circles.

  38. David Marjanović says

    We hang out in different countries (what social life I have here in Berlin is mostly in English; I got to speak French in the last two days too, yay!). I do confirm, though, that prosit is very rare in general; I basically hear it once a year in the ritual at the concert.

    (Never been to an Oktoberfest; I don’t drink beer, and, trust me, there’s absolutely no point that way.)

    [z], on the other hand, is the usual pronunciation.

    Of course – in places where [z] is native, i.e. north of the Weißwurstäquator. I had to learn to articulate it when I started to learn French and English.

  39. John Cowan says

    Doesn’t have quite the ring, does it, JC? Weak-at-the-knees shibilant, I ask you!

    We’ve got 808 sh-words in and 456 sk-words. I call that pretty fair and balanced.

  40. @Y: what’s taught in the YIVO world is צו געזונט (more or less /tsǝgɛzunt/)*, but what most people i know say, and what i grew up with, is געזונטהײַט [gezunt.hayt] / gesundheit, which in my family could be either yiddish or general-american (no german-speakers in the lineage closer than the 1700s, as far as i know; i don’t think the bukovinan side of the family were well-off enough to have been part of that layer).

    * with an option for more elaborate things like “a gezunt in dos kepele” [a health to your little head].

  41. The Aramaic word אסותא ʾāsūtā ‘healing, cure, remedy’ (in Syriac as ܐܣܘܬܐ ʾāsūtā ‘healing, cure, miraculous curing’; Mandaic asuta ‘health’) has an interesting ulterior etymology. It looks like the regular abstract noun in -ūtā derived from the root ʾsy ‘to heal, cure’, also seen in Aramaic ʾāsyā ‘physician, doctor, healer’. The root was perhaps originally extracted from ʾāsyā ‘physician’, if not from the abstract ʾāsūtā. This group of Aramaic words is doubtless from Akkadian asû ‘physician, doctor’, existing beside the abstract noun asûtu ‘the profession of physician, practice of medicine; medical skill’. Akkadian asû itself is a borrowing of Sumerian azu 𒀀𒍪.

    I wonder how old this use of ʾāsūtā in response to a sneeze is. The Mishnah recounts has something similar with the word equivalent to Aramaic ʾāsūtā in Hebrew, מַרְפֵּא marpēʾ ‘healing, recovery’ (derived from Hebrew רָפָא rāp̲āʾ ‘to heal’). In Berakhot 53a, following a discussion of preventing the interruption of study by the excessive recitation of blessings in the communal life of the Torah study hall, there is discussion of what should be said after a sneeze (quickly executed quasi-Masoretic vocalized transliteration of my own intended only for the benefit of LH readers who are unfamiliar with Hebrew but would like to have some idea of the sound of the text):

    תניא נמי הכי של בית רבן גמליאל לא היו אומרים מרפא בבית המדרש מפני בטול בית המדרש

    tanyā nammî haḵî šel bêṯ Rabbān Gamlîʾēl lōʾ hāyû ʾômərîm marpēʾ bəḇêṯ hammiḏrāš mippənê biṭṭûl bêṯ hammiḏrāš

    It has been taught similarly thus: The members of the house of Rabban Gamaliel did not say Healing! (when someone sneezed) in the Torah study hall, to prevent the interruption of (study in) the Torah study hall.

    And another text of around the same age as the Mishnah, the Tosefta, has the following (Tosefta Shabbat 8.2 ):

    האומר מרפא הרי זה מדרכי האמורי ר’ אלעזר ברבי צדוק אומר אין אומרים מרפא מפני ביטול תורה של בית ר”ג לא היו אומרים מרפא מפני דרכי האמורי

    hāʾômēr marpēʾ hărê zēh middarḵê ʼĔmôrî. R′ ʾElʿāzār b. R′ Ṣāḏôq ʾômēr ên ʾômərîm marpēʾ mippənê bîṭṭûl tôrāh šel bêṯ Rabbān Gamlîʾēl lōʾ hāyû ʾômərîm marpēʾ mippənê ḏarḵê ʼĔmôrî.

    He who says Healing! (in response to a sneeze): surely this is a superstitious practice (literally, ‘from the customs of Amorites’). Rabban Eleazar bar Tzadok says that they do not say Healing!, in order to avoid the interruption of Torah study; the members of the house of Rabban Gamliel do not say Healing!, in order to avoid superstitious practices (‘customs of Amorites’).

    I wonder if Aramaic lies behind this use of marpēʾ, and if ʾāsūtā was chosen as the salutation after sneezing for sound-symbolic reasons (cf. Arabic عطسة ʿaṭsa ‘a sneeze’; English achoo, German hatschi, hatzi, Polish apsik, etc.).

  42. Sneezing is mentioned several times in Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book. Translations below from Ivan Morris (1967).

    In her list of ‘Hateful Things’ (にくきもの nikuki mono), sandwiched between men who praise their former lovers in the presence of their present lovers, and fleas, there are the following items (quick modernizing transliteration for the benefit of LH readers who are unfamiliar with Japanese):

    はなひて誦文する人。 大かた人の家の男主ならでは、高くはなひたるもの、いとにくし。

    Hana hite zumon suru hito. Ōkata hito no ie no otokoshū narade wa, takaku hana hitaru mono, ito nikushi.

    A person who recites a spell himself after sneezing. In fact, I detest anyone who sneezes, except the master of the house.

    And at the head of the list called ‘People Who Look Pleased With Themselves’ (したりがほなるもの shitarigao naru mono), there is the following:


    Shōgatsu tsuitachi no tsutomete, saisho ni hana hitaru hito.

    A man who sneezes before anyone else on the morning of New Year’s Day.

    (Pleased because everyone else will wish him good luck on that auspicious day.)

    There is also the wonderful passage here, beginning The Empress spoke to me for a while and then asked, “Are you really fond of me?”, reflecting the belief that a sneeze indicated the last person who had spoken was not telling the truth.

  43. CuConnacht says

    I heard zay gezunt from Yiddish-speaking American colleagues (all US-born, I think) in 1969-70.

  44. Sorry, that should be darḵê hāʼĔmôrî “of the Amorites” (for those who are reading my post above). I left out the article while transliterating.

  45. Jeffry House says

    I grew up in Milwaukee. My mothers’ side of the family was entirely German-speaking before her generation. (She was born in 1918).

    Gesundheit after a sneeze was absolutely standard. I doubt I ever heard another expression. Certainly my maternal grandparents used to say this.

    For drinking while playing cards, “Prost!” not prosit, was the word normally used.

    Also while drinking at the card table, if the children were still up, it was required that everyone take a turn singing a verse of “Johnny Schmoker”. I can still remember most of the German lyrics, even though at the time I had zero spoken German.

  46. David Marjanović says


    Huh, never encountered that one.

    Also, I’m suddenly wondering about Emory University.

  47. Stu Clayton says

    Also, I’m suddenly wondering about Emory University

    Named after the Methodist bishop John Emory. Emory from Emmerich which, sez here, may be derived from Amalrich or Heinrich, or may be a meld of similar names. The Italian form of Emmerich is Amerigo, and so back to the Americas. No Amorites in sight, only some Amali.

  48. John Cowan says

    In addition to Emory University in Atlanta, there is also Emory and Henry College in southwestern Virginia, named after the same bishop plus Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry and likewise founded just after Emory’s death. If Emory is indeed a variant of Heimrich [sic] in this case, then the two eponyms have surnames which are doublets. Emory himself was neither a Georgian nor a Virginian but a Marylander,

  49. On Prosit / Prost: I can also confirm that the former is bookish / outdated; I know it only from older books and from the song Paddy linked. The latter is what you usually say when drinking.
    Neujahr I’ve heard both with initial and with final stress, and in the colocation Prost Neujahr I myself (and many people I know) pronounce it with final stress, while I pronounce it with initial stress otherwise.
    Considering sneezing as confirmation is also known at least in parts of Germany; etwas beniesen means to confirm something by sneezing (not something someone actually strives to do, but rather other people commenting on a sneeze after a statement with du hast es beniest / du musst es beniesen).

  50. David Marjanović says

    etwas beniesen

    Stunning. I had no idea.

  51. J.W. Brewer says

    I think the “from” in Stu’s Teutonocentric source may be misleading. The English name Emery/Emory is usually said, like the German name Emmerich, to ultimately descend from the good old Visigothic name Amal[a]ric, with French Amaury probably having something to do causally with why the English name lacks a final consonant. One would not particularly expect an American bearer of the name (as either given name or surname) to be a post-Anglicization German-American. Some of the more westerly parts of Maryland had lots of ethnic-Germans coming down from Pennsylvania among their founding colonial population, but Bishop Emory was from the Eastern Shore.

  52. Right, Xerîb. Of course ’āsûtā’ means ‘cure, healing’, not ‘health’.

    In the Talmud Yerushalmi, Brakhot 6,6, we have (Guggenheimer edition), שָׁאֲלוּ אֶת בֶּן זוֹמָא מִפְּנֵי מַה בָּא לָהֶן יַיִן בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּזוֹן כָּל־אֶחָד מְבָרֵךְ לְעַצְמוֹ. אָמַר לָהֶם מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵין בֵּית הַבְּלִיעָה פָּנוּי. אָמַר רִבִּי מָנָא הֲדָא אָמְרָה אֲהֵן דְּעָטִישׁ גַו מֵיכְלָא אֲסִיר לְמֵימַר ייס בְּגִין סַכַּנְתָּא דְּנַפְשָׁא. [Hebrew]:šā’ălû ’et ben zômā’ mipĕnê ma bā’ lāhen yayin bĕtôḵ hammāzôn kol-’eḥad mĕḇārēḵ lĕ‘aṣĕmô. ’āmar lāhem mipĕnê še’ên bêṯ habĕli‘â pānûy. ’āmar ribî mānā’ [Aramaic:] hădā’ ’āmrâ ’ăhēn dĕ‘āṭîš gaw mêkḻā’ ăsîr lĕmêmar YYS bĕgîn sakantā’ dĕnap̱šā’. ‘They asked of Ben Zoma, Why is it that when wine was served to them in the middle of the meal, each one makes the benediction for himself? He said, Because the pharynx [“place of swallowing”] is not empty [i.e. so as not to have the eaters follow another’s benediction with an Amen while they are swallowing their food.] Rebbi Mana said, This means that if one sneezes in the middle of the meal, one may not say YYS because of danger to ones life.’ ייס yys is given without niqqud, but is evidently Greek ἴασις ‘cure, remedy’.

    Jump forward to the Middle Ages. Several commentators quote that passage from the Talmud Yerushalmi—Rabbeinu Yonah Girondi (Spain, late 13th c.), Rashba (Spain, c. 1300), Rosh (Spain, c. 1300), Hameiri (Provence, c. 1300)—quote that passage from Yerushalmi, more or less verbatim, but substituting the Aramaic ’āsûtā’ for the older Greek word. Gpoing back a couple hundred years, Rashi’s 11th century Commentary on the Babylonian Berakhot, which Xerîb quoted earlier, says מרפא – לאדם המתעטש שרגילים לומר אסותא: ‘marpē’—to a person who sneezes, as one usually says ’āsûtā’‘. All these imply that the Aramaic word was in common usage in Medieval Western Europe. Since its meaning and usage are identical to the Greek, an early calque is suggested. I wonder which way the calque went, and where and when it occurred.

    The Shulchan Aruch, a compendium of Jewish law written by the Spanish-born Yoseph Karo in 1563, uses the line about sneezing during the meal, translated into Hebrew, and again, uses ’āsûtā’.

    The earliest modern usage of ’āsûtā’ that I could find in the ‘Gesundheit’ sense comes from Mendele Mokher Sforim’s 1869 novel, The Book of Beggars, a.k.a. Fishke the Lame, in the context of snuff tobacco. The first newspaper attestation I could find is from 1886, about sneezing from dust in the street.

  53. Thank you for gathering all this material together, Y! It is delightful.

    I couldn’t find any use of an exclamation ἴασις! in Greek texts comparable to what the the Jerusalem Talmud offers. (It’s interesting that the aorist imperative middle ἴασαι is used several times in the Septuagint to translate the imperative of רָפָא rāp̄āʼ.) However, in relation to the rest of the thread, there is this from the Greek Anthology (11.268), which I am surprised was not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on responses to sneezing:

    Οὐ δύναται τῇ χειρὶ Πρόκλος τὴν ῥῖν᾽ ἀπομύσσειν·
    τῆς ῥινὸς γὰρ ἔχει τὴν χέρα μικροτέρην·
    οὐδὲ λέγει Ζεῦ σῶσον ἐὰν πταρῇ· οὐ γὰρ ἀκούει
    τῆς ῥινὸς· πολὺ γὰρ τῆς ἀκοῆς ἀπέχει.

    Proclus cannot wipe his nose with his hand,
    for his arm is shorter than his nose;
    nor does he say “Zeus, preserve us!” when he sneezes, for he can’t hear
    his nose, it is so far away from his ears.

    There doesn’t seem to be any way to date this epigram precisely, but it is interesting that it uses the form σῶσον, 2nd sg. aorist imperative active of σῴζω, σω- ‘save, keep safe, preserve’. The famous sneezing incident in the Anabasis occurs right when Xenophon utters the word σωτηρία ‘deliverance, preservation, safety’:

    εἰ μέντοι διανοούμεθα σὺν τοῖς ὅπλοις ὧν τε πεποιήκασι δίκην ἐπιθεῖναι αὐτοῖς καὶ τὸ λοιπὸν διὰ παντὸς πολέμου αὐτοῖς ἰέναι, σὺν τοῖς θεοῖς πολλαὶ ἡμῖν καὶ καλαὶ ἐλπίδες εἰσὶ σωτηρίας.

    τοῦτο δὲ λέγοντος αὐτοῦ πτάρνυταί τις: ἀκούσαντες δ᾽ οἱ στρατιῶται πάντες μιᾷ ὁρμῇ προσεκύνησαν τὸν θεόν, καὶ ὁ Ξενοφῶν εἶπε: δοκεῖ μοι, ὦ ἄνδρες, ἐπεὶ περὶ σωτηρίας ἡμῶν λεγόντων οἰωνὸς τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ σωτῆρος ἐφάνη, εὔξασθαι τῷ θεῷ τούτῳ θύσειν σωτήρια ὅπου ἂν πρῶτον εἰς φιλίαν χώραν ἀφικώμεθα, συνεπεύξασθαι δὲ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις θεοῖς θύσειν κατὰ δύναμιν. καὶ ὅτῳ δοκεῖ ταῦτ᾽, ἔφη, ἀνατεινάτω τὴν χεῖρα. καὶ ἀνέτειναν ἅπαντες.

    “…but if our intention is to rely upon our arms, and not only to inflict punishment upon them for their past deeds, but henceforth to wage implacable war with them, we have—the gods willing—many fair hopes of deliverance.”

    As he was saying this a man sneezed, and when the soldiers heard it, they all with one impulse made obeisance to the god; and Xenophon said, “I move, gentlemen, since at the moment when we were talking about deliverance an omen from Zeus the Saviour was revealed to us, that we make a vow to sacrifice to that god thank-offerings for deliverance as soon as we reach a friendly land; and that we add a further vow to make sacrifices, to the extent of our ability, to the other gods also. All who are in favour of this motion,” he said, “will raise their hands.” And every man in the assembly raised his hand.

    I wonder if this indicates that an expression like Ζεῦ σῶσον in response to sneezing was already in use in the 5th century.

  54. John Cowan says

    One would not particularly expect an American bearer of the name (as either given name or surname) to be a post-Anglicization German-American.

    Indeed, the silence of the record (what little there is of it online) on the Bishop’s origins strongly suggests to me that he was of English descent, the default origin in those days. If he were in fact Pennsylvania Dutch, he would be very unlikely to be a Methodist.

  55. >ייס yys is given without niqqud, but is evidently Greek ἴασις ‘cure, remedy’.

    This may be obvious to others, but I’m not clear what you mean. yys is evidently iasis because there is evidently a typo? Or because it is evidently a translation of iasis? Or there is some normal alternation of consonant sounds?

    Is “ia” the Greek (or IE?) root here, common to this word and to iatros – healer? Does this or some related form somehow help explain yys for iasis?

    Stumbling on the apparently related verb iaomai – heal, repair, I’m surprised no one ever tried to make a religious connection to a form of the tetragrammaton. A ludicrous one, of course, but it seems like the sort of silly etymology someone would have seized on. But I’m still not understanding where the double-jot comes from.

  56. J.W. Brewer says

    I think a non-trivial number of folks of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry did eventually end up under the Methodist umbrella, but the historical processes by which that happened had generally not yet unfolded in Bishop Emory’s day.

    ETA: for example, Francis Asbury, the most prominent early American Methodist bishop, got along very well with the Pa. Dutch Pietist pastor Philip Otterbein, to the extent that Otterbein participated in Asbury’s consecration as a bishop (which was pretty loose practice for the 1780’s, but the Methodists were not yet respectable in those days), but it took another couple hundred years for the organizational entities descended from those with which Otterbein and Asbury were formally affiliated in their lifetimes to formally unite with each other.

  57. @Ryan: Indeed. I was quoting learned sources. The phonetic partial mismatch needs to be explained, but together with the semantic match to ’āsûtā’ I think it’s convincing enough.

    The word is clear enough in the authoritative manuscript (here, on the left-hand page, below the gray stain near the middle of the page).

    The best I could come up with is, either yys is a corruption of yss, i.e. /jasis/ or so, or maybe it’s meant to represent /jijas/ or so, with some kind of haplology. I don’t know how plausible either explanation is, in view of what’s known of Greek phonology and the way it is transcribed elsewhere.

  58. The earliest modern usage of ’āsûtā’ that I could find in the ‘Gesundheit’ sense comes from Mendele Mokher Sforim

    so interesting, Y!

    who was the character in Fishke der Krumer who said “asuse”? (i am, predictably, wondering about social location and aramaic vocabulary, especially since that book (and mendele generally) is all about a certain kind of physiognomic social panorama)

    (o, and going back a bit, and am i right to assume that the shift to “labriut” was part of the shift from traditional literary hebrew to ivrit? [bracketing terminological quibbles about what to call the two])

    and, for completeness, because i have them in front of me: the schaechter-viswanath & glasser Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary translates “Gesundheit” with “tse gezunt”, while its yiddish-english sibling from beinfeld & bochner has both “asuse” and “tse gezunt”. and harkavy has none of these as interjections, just “gezundhayt” meaning “health”.

  59. @Rozele: as it turns out, there are two places in the Hebrew version where asuta is used, but not in the Yiddish. Referring to the Yiddish version, on p. 8 the townspeople offer Alter snuff tobacco; in the Hebrew they “bless him and tell him, asuta! asuta!” In Yiddish they merely offer him vintshevanyes (how do you parse that?) Then, on p. 16, the bathhouse attendant tells everyone “tsu refue!” on their way out, which is translated as “asuta!” in Hebrew.

    I don’t know about the shift to labriut. As an obvious Yiddish calque, I assume it’s something that happened without planning, among early immigrants to Palestine. I don’t know what expression the Ben Yehuda family used, but it must be documented somewhere.

    Come to think of it, I have seen לִרְפוּאָה lirĕfû’â someplace as well. It sounds to me very 19th-century Biblical/Maskilic Hebrew.

  60. thanks! and fascinating!

    a quick look at refoyl’s online dictionary confirms my understanding of “vintshevanyes” as “good wishes”, but doesn’t help me parse it any further than “vintshn”/”vintshevn” [to wish]. it feels like an enhancing kind of noun-izer to me, which gets some confirmation from “tsirn” -> “tsirevanye” [to ornament -> ornamentation] and “zhaleven” -> “zhalevanye” [to skimp, economize, begrudge -> easily earned money].

    but i suspect it’s direct from a slavic lect, and a better-informed hatter than i will be able to give a real explanation.

  61. PlasticPaddy says
    says verbs in -ovat’ are productive in Russian with borrowed stems.
    -ovanije would just be the corresponding noun for “act of” e.g., organizovanie is the word for “act of” organisation in Slovak.

  62. I have no special knowledge about “vintsh” to “vintshevanyes” transition, but there is a Russian suffix “-anye” which turns verbs into nouns. For example, желать is wish the verb and желание is wish the noun (like in “you have three wishes”). This doesn’t explain where -ev- came from, though, if it explains anything at all.

  63. PlasticPaddy says

    Tanz > tanzevat’ so perhaps vintsch > vintschevat’?

  64. Examples like vintschevanye and the tsirevanye quoted by rozele incline me to assume that Yiddish (or the specific lect where they are attested) has loaned the suffix -(ev)anye from Slavic at least for occasional formations.
    @rozele: do you know whether the “e” in the ev segment of the suffix is schwa or a fully articulated /e/?

  65. i’m persuaded! i wonder whether the -anye suffix is still a productive one for yiddish-speakers in slavic-speaking regions – i wouldn’t be surprised.

    and -eve is a pretty common yiddish verb ending, with the first vowel falling somewhere from /ǝ/ to /ɛ/. i think it’s most often attached to a slavic-origin root, but not always (e.g. “mordeven” [to attack]; “letseven” [to poke fun at]). and i think it leans towards doing some particular semantic work, but i don’t know quite what.

  66. Owlmirror says

    I’ve been reading a manga which has a page with some people talking about someone, and a panel showing that person (who is across an ocean from the speakers) sneezing.

    Is there a Japanese (or other) folk belief where sneezing might mean people are talking about you?

    Also, I note that Gesundheit (Gezundheit, Gesundhejt) is a family name, eg

  67. Keith Ivey says

    Seems like a better name than Cronkite.

  68. Wikipedia:

    In certain parts of East Asia, particularly in Chinese culture, Korean culture, Japanese culture and Vietnamese culture, a sneeze without an obvious cause was generally perceived as a sign that someone was talking about the sneezer at that very moment. This can be seen in the Book of Songs (a collection of Chinese poems) in ancient China as early as 1000 BC, and in Japan this belief is still depicted in present-day manga and anime.

  69. In Germany, there is a folk belief that hiccoughing means that someone is thinking of you, and you have to guess the person who is thinking about you in order for the hiccoughing to stop.

  70. Same in Russia. Maybe it is connected to a mildly popular curse (or popular mild curse) of wishing somebody (usually out of earshot) to get hiccups. Possibly connected to a belief that hiccups are caused by some dark (in mystical sense) entity entering one’s body. But I am not sure of it at all because on the other hand hiccups might be interpreted as someone thinking of the affected person neutrally or with affection.

  71. David Marjanović says

    It never seems to have reached Austria.

  72. Incidentally, about the spelling “hiccough,” the OED has this to say:

    The β. forms almost certainly arose by folk-etymological alteration after cough n.; in spite of this, hiccough has long been considered by most to be the more appropriate spelling in formal writing.

    As to where the last syllable actually came from, it was originally a diminutive, as explained at the entry for hicket:

    One of the earlier forms of hiccup, the other being hickock, both apparently with a diminutive formative –et, –ock. The echoic stem hick appears also in Middle Dutch hick, Dutch hik, Low German hick, Danish hik, Swedish hicka hiccup, Middle Dutch hicken, Dutch hikken, Danish hicke, Swedish hicka to hiccup; also Breton hok, hik (Littré), French hoquet (15th cent.), Walloon hikéte, medieval Latin hoquetus (Du Cange), hiccup, French hoqueter (12th cent. in Hatzfeld & Darmesteter) to hiccup. The English hicket corresponds in formation to the French, and is identical with the Walloon. Assuming this to be the earliest form, we have the series hicket, hickot, hickock, hickop, hiccup (hiccough).

  73. ktschwarz says

    Huh, the OED’s entry hiccup isn’t fully revised, but that note about “the more appropriate spelling in formal writing” is recent: “Etymology and variant forms provisionally revised June 2022” according to the entry history box. In 1898, they said

    Hiccough was a later spelling, app. under the erroneous impression that the second syllable was cough, which has not affected the received pronunciation, and ought to be abandoned as a mere error.

    And the new note is wrong: hiccup is now much more common in any register. The Google ngrams indicate that hiccough was indeed more common (in books) in the late 19th century, but it’s been declining ever since. The lines crossed circa World War II, and hiccup is now in the lead by a factor of about 10 in British English, 20 in American. And the OED uses hiccup in its own definitions, e.g.

    (1912) thump n. 2b. A beating of the chest in the horse due to spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm, analogous to the hiccup in man.
    (2019) yesk n. Now Scottish and English regional. 2. A hiccup; the hiccups. Also: an instance of hawking or retching; a belch.

  74. David Eddyshaw says

    I’d forgotten about hiccough in the rogues’ gallery of English spelling.

    I’ll just be off now to eat a nice ghoti ghigh.

    [WP leads me to the discovery that the Klingon word for “fish” is ghotI’.


  75. I’m still pleased with myself about ‘fire’.

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