Everyday Life


used to wish good health especially to one who sneezed

When English speakers hear ‘achoo,’ they usually respond with either ‘gesundheit’ or ‘God bless you.’ ‘Gesundheit’ was borrowed from German, where it literally means ‘health’; it was formed by a combination of ‘gesund’ (‘healthy’) and ‘-heit’ (‘-hood’). Wishing a person good health when they sneezed was believed to forestall the illness that a sneeze often portends. ‘God bless you’ had a similar purpose, albeit with more divine weight to the well-wishing. (It was once believed the soul could exit the body during a sneeze, causing ill health. Folks said ‘God bless you’ to ward off this danger.) ‘Gesundheit,’ at one time, also served as a toast when drinking (much like its English counterpart, ‘to your health’), but this usage is now mostly obsolete.

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