(This is another piece which I have republished, edited and translated into Irish because of The Year of the Irish Language 2018. Seo píosa eile atá athfhoilsithe agam anseo, agus a bhfuil eagarthóireacht déanta agam air agus aistriúchán de curtha ar fáil agam in ómós do Bhliain na Gaeilge 2018.)

According to Cassidy, the English word sneeze derives from Irish.

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

There are several points to be noted here. First of all, the phrase sní as (=ooze out of) doesn’t exist in Irish as a way of referring to sneezing. Nor could it exist, as far as I can see. The word sní refers to slow movement of liquids, such as a running, a dripping or a flowing, or to the slow movement of snails or slugs. Here is the entry from Mícheál Ó Siochfhradha’s Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary published in 1973 by the Talbot Press in Dublin:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

As sneezing is one of the fastest and most dynamic actions the human body is capable of, it hardly seems likely that sní would be used to describe it!

Then again, there is an Irish word for sneeze. It’s in all the dictionaries. Sraoth is the word. So if you want to say “I sneezed”, you would say lig me sraoth. If you want to say ‘I was sneezing’, you say bhí mé ag sraothartach (or in my Ulster dialect, bhí mé ag srofartaigh). You can find the ancestor of these words in eDIL. In a text of c. 800 AD, it occurs in the form sred.

We also have to look at borrowings between languages. Generally speaking, languages borrow words that they don’t have a word for themselves. Thus banshee, or kosher, or imam have been borrowed into English because English doesn’t have words for those concepts. But people have always sneezed, so why wouldn’t English have had a word for sneezing before the Irish gave them an expression? Did the Irish give them the flu at the same time?

Of course, the English did have an expression for sneezing – the word sneezing. It has many cognates in Germanic languages. Sneeze is ‘niesen’ (pronounced ‘neezen’) in German and ‘niezen’ (neesa) in Dutch. It occurs as early as 1470 in the works of Chaucer. The words sneeze, niesen and niezen are obviously the same and none of them has any direct connection with Irish.


De réir Cassidy, is ón Ghaeilge a tháinig an focal Béarla sneeze:

Sní as (pron. snee’as, flowing, dripping, leaking, coursing out of) is not to be sneezed at. It is the Irish origin of the English sneeze.

Tá roinnt pointí le tabhairt faoi deara anseo. Ar an chéad dul síos, níl an frása ‘sní as’ le fáil sa Ghaeilge mar dhóigh le labhairt ar an tsraothartach, agus ní dóigh liom go dtiocfaí úsáid a bhaint as ar an dóigh sin ach oiread. Ciallaíonn an focal sní an dóigh a mbíonn leacht tiubh ag bogadh go mall. Sileadh smugairle ón tsrón, mar shampla, nó an dóigh a mbíonn seilide nó drúchtín ag bogadh. Seo an chiall de réir Irish-English, English-Irish Dictionary Mhícheáil Uí Shiochfhradha, a d’fhoilsigh an Talbot Press i mBaile Átha Cliath sa bhliain 1973:

Sní, f. flowing slowly (as water); crawling (as snail)

Ní hionann sin agus sraoth a ligean, ar ndóigh. Tá sraoth a ligean ar cheann de na gníomhartha is gasta agus is dinimiciúla dá dtig le corp an duine a dhéanamh. Ní dócha go mbainfí úsáid as an fhocal sní le cur síos ar rud chomh gasta leis.

Agus ar ndóigh, tá focal i nGaeilge ar ‘sneeze’ an Bhéarla. Sraoth atá ann. Tá sé le i ngach foclóir Gaeilge. Deirtear ‘Lig mé sraoth’ nó ‘bhí mé ag sraothartach (nó sa chanúint s’againne ó thuaidh, ‘bhí mé ag srofartaigh’.) Thig leat sinsear na bhfocal seo a aimsiú in eDIL. Tá sé le fáil i dtéacs a scríobhadh c. 800 AD san fhoirm sred.

Ní mór dúinn amharc ar an dóigh a nglacann teangacha focail óna chéile fosta. Go ginearálta, tógann teangacha focail ó theangacha eile nuair nach bhfuil focail acu ar na rudaí sin. Sin an fáth ar thóg an Béarla banshee ón Ghaeilge, kosher ón Eabhrais agus imam ón Araibis, cionn is nach raibh focail ag an Bhéarla ar na rudaí sin a bhaineann le cultúir eile. Ach cén fáth nach mbeadh focal ag an Bhéarla ar shraoth sular thug na Gaeil ceann dóibh? An amhlaidh gur bhronn na Gaeil ulpóg orthu ag an am chéanna?

Ar ndóigh, bhí focal ag an Bhéarla ar shraoth – an focal sneeze. Tá a lán gaol ag sneeze i dteangacha Gearmánacha eile. Is é ‘niesen’ an focal ar shraoth sa Ghearmáinis agus ‘niezen’ san Ollainnis. Tá an focal le fáil sa Bhéarla chomh luath le saothair Chaucer sa bhliain 1470. Is léir gurb ionann iad na focail sneeze, niesen agus niezen agus níl baint dá laghad acu leis an Ghaeilge.

6 thoughts on “Sneeze

  1. Marconatrix

    Cha dhèanainn sreothart air sin 🙂
    And to my shame I had to look the word up, it seems never to have turned up in any of my Gaelic reading etc. How odd? As for having a word meaning “to ooze or flow along like a snail”, just how cool can you get! (I’ve always rather admired snails & slugs, the way they move gracefully yet have no legs). As far as I can tell our _snìgh_ just means to drip or seep, so that’s one up to you. Maybe you should do a series called The Gaels Have a Word for It, or somesuch 😉

    O chionn ghoiraid thàinig cat a-staigh ann an taigh againn, agus bhiodh ise a’ sreothartach fad na h-ùine aig a chead dol a-mach. Chan eil fhios againn có as a thàinig i, ach tha ise ann fhathast. Gu fortanach tha i fada na’s fheàrr a-nise, ‘na cadal ri mo thaobh nuair a tha mi a’ sgrìobhadh 🙂

    Just though the Gàidhlig deserved an outing too …

    1. DebunkerOfCassidy Post author

      There is such a thing, TheIrishFor. Strange you should mention sneezing cats. I looked on sneeze on the Michigan Middle English Dictionary for this post and it mentions a ME proverb – to teach the cat to sneeze. Apparently it means to bully someone. I’ve spent the last two hours racking my brains trying to work out why it should have that meaning? Smaointe ar bith agatsa?
      Tá mé sásta go bhfuil an cat níos fearr anois, cibé. 🙂

      1. Marconatrix

        Well aside from actual sneezing due to a bunged-up nose, cats do sometimes make a noise a bit like a sharp sneeze as a threat. It means “keep off or else!” So if you wind up your moggie and back her into a corner, you may well elicit this noise. Almost spitting but not quite.
        And yes, thanks, Puss is almost better now and only ‘explodes’ very occasionally … 🙂

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