sneeze

Definitions

General English

Medical

  • noun a reflex action to blow air suddenly out of the nose and mouth because of irritation in the nasal passages

Slang

  • noun cocaine. A term used by yuppies in the late 1980s.

Origin & History of “sneeze”

The Old English word for ‘sneeze’ was fnēsan, a distant relative of Greek pneuma ‘breath’ (source of English pneumatic). this survived into middle English as fnese. The letters f and s were very similar in medieval script, so it could have played a part in the late 15th-century emergence of sneeze. Fnese had largely died out by the early 15th century, and it could well be that when printing got into full swing in the 1490s, with many old manuscript texts being reissued in printed form, printers unfamiliar with the old word fnese assumed it had the much more common initial consonant cluster sn-. Another factor in the equation is the now obsolete verb neeze ‘sneeze’. This was borrowed in the 14th century from Old Norse hnósja, a descendant of the Indo-European base *ksneu-, which also produced German niesen, Dutch niezen, Swedish nysa, Danish nyse, and Russian chikhat’ ‘sneeze’. It bridged the gap between fnese and sneeze, and the new sneeze no doubt struck people as a more expressive alternative to the old neeze. (both fnese and neeze go back ultimately to an imitation of the sound of breathing, blowing, or sneezing.).
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