Tag Archives: etymology of sneeze

Cassidese Glossary – Sneeze

For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.

According to Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax How The Irish Invented Slang, 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 and it is highly unlikely that it would ever be used in this way. 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, the word sraoth. If you wanted to say “I sneezed”, you would say lig me sraoth. If you wanted to say ‘I was sneezing’, you would 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.

Back in the real world, sneezing is of impeccable Germanic origin and has many cognates in other Germanic languages. Sneeze is ‘niesen’ (pronounced ‘neezen’) in German and ‘niezen’ (neesa) in Dutch. Sneeze 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.