Sep 07


So, I'm at at the Queen's Garden Party (as a medic, not a guest, though it's a rather lovely opener to any story) when Jax sneezes.

“Oooh. Bless me.”

“You can't solicit blessings…” begins Sarge “Either people will bless you or not, but you can't go round demanding it.”

Jax looks at Sarge like he's mental.

She's got a point.


But it gets me thinking.

We all know the drill. Someone sneezes and it's considered polite to say “Bless you” or, if you're terribly posh, “God bless you.”


We all know the probably apocryphal origins of the custom, that during the Black Death, a sneeze was one of the earlier symptoms, and to be caught sneezing in public was to alert others to the fact that you were probably about to die in a fireworks cascade of pustules and boils and rats piss (I haven't studied bubonic plague very much…that'll have to do). So people started blessing each other, in the hopes that the Big Yin would drop a urinal block or two in the Thames to negate the nastier effects of old Rattus Norvegus tinkling in the Evian.


I can't help thinking a bottle of Dettol and a green scrubby might have been more effective.


Still, we're left with this ridiculous legacy of invoking a deity whenever someone's nasal airways are irritated and they expel mucus and air at high speed to remove said irritation. Not only is it a custom, it's practically etiquette – people like Jax get upset if you don't offer them the blessings of the almighty just because they haven't taken an anti-histamine this morning.

The thing is, when you fart, or burp, or cough, it's up to YOU to say “Excuse me”, because we recognise that those involuntary actions your body makes have no place in polite company. Largely because they're the sounds associated with expelling something that it doesn't need anymore and have no place lolloping around in polite company.

For some reason sneezing is exempt, like a flatmate who's offended because you pointed out their pubes on your soap, sneezes demand that everyone else makes it all better in the interests of keeping the offending party sweet.


So in the interests of removing this daft anachronisism and avoiding any risk of offence by the summoning of a Judeo-Christian god with a box of Kleenex, I'm advocating a new system which still acknowledges the sneeze and yet is up to date and unlikely to offend.

It simply requires you to point at the sneezer and shout “You sneezed!”

Before you dismiss it, it's marginally less ludicrous than requiring the gods to attend to your sinus drip. I hope they have more important matters to attend to than your snottery beak.

Failing that, if you're still up for pulling celestial beings into your bodily expulsions, I've devised a whole new range of sayings.

For instance, when you've excused yourself from the dinner table to use the bathroom, from now on I think it should be only gracious, on your return, to tell your fellow diners – “Peace be upon you, I shat.”

Also, please feel free to use the following lines in polite company.

“By the grace of Shiva, your tummy is rumbling.”

“May the Buddha smile upon your productive cough.”

“Apollo's flight, true and straight, guide your wee to the porcelain.”

“Pray the angels sing in the key of your queef.”

Obviously, being a etiquette trail blazer can be a lonely business, so I'm going to need you guys to all start using these with immediate effect. Report back, readers.

Today is the first day of a wonderful new era of partnership between farting and heaven.



20 Responses to “Achoo.”

  1. The Girl says:

    Ok So… here’s the science bit, concentrate:
    Black Death is caused by a bacteria (Yersnina pestis) that was carried in the fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) of the Black Rat (Rattus Rattus). The (infected) fleas bit you and in their saliva was the bacteria and the rest of the symptoms are pretty accurate.
    even now the USA is a good place to catch it as Prairie Dogs and Marmots are reserviors of the bacteria, and they also have the ‘right’ fleas.
    Modern antibiotics like streptomycin, gentamycin and choramphenicol are the drugs of choice but usually mainlined (i.v.) as patient is in ITU on life support. Can’t you tell I was awake in my pathology rotation.

    BTW loving the queef saying and shall use it should the opportunity arise.


  2. Nickopotamus says:

    I used to go with gesundheit, but I like your way better. The chance to gently poke fun at religion appeals to my evangelical atheist mindset, and the chance to highlight peoples’ bodily functions appeals to my schoolboy mentality…


  3. Katy says:

    My dad used to say ‘Shhh!’ in an over-exaggerated fashion (fingers on lips, eyebrows as high as they’d go) whenever we sneezed. I still do it to people I’m pretty sure will talk to me afterwards.

    According to Miss Manners, farting doesn’t exist in a social setting, and anyone who mentions it is clearly hallucinating.


  4. Winter Wiccan says:

    Yet again you have reduced me to a fit of the giggles while I am supposed to be working!

    Thanks Kal


  5. Pam says:

    When I sneeze, I just say, ” Excuse me.”


  6. Sewmouse says:

    I grew up with an immigrant German Great-gramma.
    We learned “Gesundheit” before we went to school.
    I still use it. I feel weird saying “bless you” – like… who the F am I to be blessing anyone?


  7. PJ says:

    Bad news: Seinfeld already tried this twenty years ago


    PJ Reply:

    and the URL (which was stripped in my earlier comment) is


    Talieta Reply:

    Hahahaha oh no! Someone was actually fired over that episode! Poor Seinfeld.


  8. Fee says:

    In our house, sneezing is followed by another family member commenting, “Said the baby panda”. Farting is followed by, “Said Noddy’s car”, and burping by, “No more wine for [whoever burped]”.

    The baby panda references a youtube video that remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, the others are pretty self explanatory… assuming you know who Noddy is. If you don’t, google will help.


  9. chlost says:

    I like your “Huzzah!” as a response to a sneeze, either by the sneezer or the companion, or even both. Because you can never have too many “Huzzahs” in this world.
    Weirdly, I was just thinking about this strange societal habit when I found myself blessing someone repeatedly as they had a sneezing fit. It became quite ridiculous.


    Ann Stone Reply:

    My husband, a native New Yorker, sneezes 5 times in a row anytime he sneezes. He tells the story of a NYC cop friend of his who once blessed him after the first sneeze, then after the second sneeze then snapped and when the third sneeze came, “Oh for Christ’s sake! Tell me when you’re done and I’ll do them all at once!”.


  10. Rat says:

    I say “bon appetit” [well, the Polish equivalent] when people sneeze, cough, or burp. Always gets me weird looks from the uninitiated.


  11. Vetnurse says:

    The one about Apollo’s flight is way off with men they always miss at some point of the procedure.. on the other hand maybe Apollo was just as bad with his flight?


  12. A says:

    I had to google queef.Your blog is so educational!


  13. Stephanie says:

    My southern-Appalachian of Scot-Irish descent grandfather would reply, “SCAT!” to a sneeze. This was, according to family lore, my first word. To a cough he would say, “Sounds bad, can’t you do any better?”


    Ann Stone Reply:

    I’d forgotten about “Scat!”. Used to hear my elderly home health patients say that all the time.


  14. kiri says:

    you could just shout “oh shit! I hope you aren’t about to die!”
    In our house when someone farts (not me, I would never be so crude) we say “frogs? At this time of year!”


    Ann Stone Reply:

    …or barking spiders.


  15. Peter says:

    I tried the “Angles singing in the key of your queef” one a couple of nights ago. A friend took my beer away from me and told the landlady not to serve me any more.

    Is this what you intended?


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