Sneezing "Achoo"

Ahh sneezing. There are only a few things in life more gratifying than a good, old fashioned sneeze.

This may just be an American (or English-speaking) thing, but why do people say "achoo" when they sneeze? Sometimes I do it, kind of as a gag, but otherwise I don't actually say "achoo" when I sneeze. I know "achoo" is described as the sound of a human sneeze, but why does one feel the need to actually say it during a sneeze-in-progress?

A guy at my office sneezes frequently. He's an "achoo-er" who usually sneezes, or achoo's, repeatedly each time, rather than a single sneeze. In terms of the art of saying "achoo" while actually sneezing, he's really very good. His sneeze-induced pronunciation of the word "achoo" is very precise. I can't help but wonder if he is consciously aware of the fact that he says "achoo" so articulately while sneezing. Perhaps he thinks his sneeze sounds completely natural.

Ever heard a baby sneeze? They don't say "achoo" when they sneeze. Their sneeze is more of a quiet inhalation of air followed by a furious expelling of it. I don't hear an "achoo" when a baby sneezes, do you? If you just answered yes, think again - is it really an "achoo" sound? I'd say it is more of an unspellable noise caused by the intense force of air exiting the mouth and nose simultaneously, often causing the lips to smack together while expelling a spray of saliva and snot. No, I'm sorry - babies do not say or make a noise that is even close to "achoo" when they sneeze.

At some point in life, people learn to say "achoo" when they sneeze. So why not say "cough" when we cough or "burp" when we burp? Now that would just be silly, wouldn't it? It's not considered silly to say "achoo" while sneezing though... except maybe to me.

People don't even do it consistently. There seems to be debate as to proper "achoo" protocol in terms of the "ah" portion of "achoo". There are those who believe that the "ah" sound should be observed during the inhalation of air, just before expelling it and making the "choo" sound. Cartoon characters tend to sneeze in this manner. They "ah" a few times, inhaling air each time, before "chooing" (exhaling) all over something, providing a comedic moment.

The "achoo" sound made (spoken) completely during the exhale portion of the sneeze seems to be the popular way to sneeze these days. It is the sneeze-model that most people follow.

There are many variations on how people make their "achoo" noises while letting out their gratifying sneeze. My father tends to bypass the "ah" portion completely, substituting it with a noise similar to a short, quick nose-blowing. At the "choo" part of the sneeze is a well defined "choooooooo" that sounds a little like someone letting out a relief sound of "wheeeeeew" after some catastrophe has been averted. His sneeze bothers me a little because there seems to be a lot of pressure build-up during the process - as if his body is trying to expel the air much faster than his nose and mouth will allow. It seems painful. His face usually turns read as a result.

Some people work very hard to say "achoo" during a sneeze. When confronted about that, they usually just say that's how they sneeze and don't have any control over it. I beg to differ though. "Achoo" is a learned word or sound, not an automatic, uncontrollable vocalization that just happens involuntarily in the moment. Some people seem to really force the word "achoo" when they sneeze. It's annoying and stupid - kind of like the local used car advertisements on TV. I don't mind the occasional forced "achoo" while sneezing for comedic purposes though. I'm sure we enjoy doing that sometimes.

Another guy at my office does not say "achoo" at all. Instead he replaces it with a "yip-CHAHH" sound that can be heard throughout the entire office. I think I like the "yip-chaah" approach to sneezing. Although it is not necessary to make any vocalizations during a sneeze, the "yip-chaah" sneeze has a creative, unique quality to it.

I keep meaning to try the "yip-chaah" myself, but always forget until after sneezing. It's hard to remember because one doesn't usually have much warning when a sneeze approaches. After I get the feeling of a sneeze coming on, I only have a moment or two before execution. That's not a lot of time to plan.

Sometimes when I feel a sneeze coming on, it goes away before I actually sneeze. Ever loose a sneeze before? I really hate when that happens. Once the sneeze-feeling has gone away, it's damn near impossible to get it back.

My wife likes to say "bless you" before I can sneeze sometimes - to make it go away. I can't explain why it chases away my sneeze, but it usually does. That's ok though, I just wait until she's in the middle of a great, big yawn and then press my finger to her tongue while her mouth is wide open. That always makes her laugh, thus forcing her to exit the yawn prematurely. I usually get smacked for doing that, but it's worth it. Besides - she hits like a girl.

This brings me to another interesting point. Not the fact that my wife hits like a girl, but yawning. Ever notice how yawning is contagious? When you see someone in the middle of a great, big yawn, you can't help but feel the need to yawn yourself. If someone else sees you yawning, they get the urge to yawn as well. Before you know it, the yawn passes through everyone in the entire room - like people doing the wave at sporting events, only a lot slower. There are probably a few people who felt the urge to yawn just reading this paragraph. If they were in mid-yawn while reading that last sentence, they might have started to laugh, effectively interrupting their yawn.

The point I wanted to bring up is wouldn't it be weird if sneezing worked more like yawning? What if just hearing someone sneeze caused the urge for others to sneeze? Can you imagine the amount of saliva spray that would be created in a room full of people once a contagious sneezing session commenced? I wonder what it would sound like? I'm sure there would be several variations of the word "achoo" being heard, but what about "yip-chaah"? Is the guy at work the only yip-chaaher? He's the only one I've heard yip-chaah before. I guess it's a good thing that sneezing isn't contagious like yawning.

About the animated GIF above:

I wanted a sneeze related image to accompany my not-so-deep thoughts about the subject. The image of neon sneeze animation bearing my own likeness popped in my head. It seemed pretty original and random. Initially intended to be set in a classic arcade setting, I went for the Vegas-style bar decoration instead.

Show me you care and share, share SHARE!


James Cronin on August 25, 2008 9:57 AM

When I sneeze, I sometimes go 'ah-SNEEEZE!' as a joke. I have to time the 'SNEEEZE!' part right though, otherwise it really hurts my throat. :p

The GIF is really cool... how did you make it?

Thanks, James. Glad you dig the animated GIF. :-)

I think I tried the "ah-sneeze" sneeze a long time ago. If the enunciation of the "sn" part isn't timed just right, it can indeed be painful. It could force most of the sneeze out through the nose (thus hurling more snot) or, as in your case, cause the sneeze to backfire in to the throat - mega-ouch!

About the GIF: In a nutshell, I created the neon portions of the image as they would appear lit-up first. Then I duplicated those layers and modified them in to the the darkened neon tubing, complete with "blacked-out" areas where they are connected, and added some wall-supports. Finally, the lit and non-lit frames were animated as you see.

This is cool. like the gif, its intresting.

When i was in about 3rd grade, i had this strange kid and he would sneeze like this: -inhale-shhhhhhhhhooooooooooo!!
I sneeze but i forget to open my mouth all the way so my lips kind of flap together and go -inhale- shhpbpppbbbpp.
it's quite strange.

Glad you enjoyed my animated neon sneeze GIF, Ultimate Lexi. :-)

The 3rd grade sneeze you describe reminds me of a girl I knew some time back. She sneezed much the same way - with a high-pitched "shhhoooooooooooooo" portion of the sneeze.

Your own sneeze description sounds kind of similar to something I do from time to time when I'm feeling silly. I sometimes stick my tongue out during a sneeze and turn it in to a Bronx cheer sound. It generates lot of spit-spray so I usually reserve that particular sneeze for outdoor amusement.

Southern Gal on May 6, 2009 1:34 PM

I worked in data entry once with 300 other people, in a very large, open room. One lady, loved to yell ACHOO. We had one lovely gentleman who would kindly say, "she'd make a great commercial for an allergy medicine". We asked for her to "control" her sneeze-screams. She would always say that old standby "I can't help it". One day, I had enough of her "ACHOO's" and had a petition signed that she either had a physician declare that she was "medically incapable of controlling herself" or we were all going to declare workers compensation claims for a "nervous condition" caused by constant "sneeze scream" interruptions; some employees had heart conditions and stated it was worse than their kids jumping out from behind a door and yelling "boo!".
Long story short; she was moved to another department, a very noisy department, it was a little dusty, she got tired of sneezing and quit.
You made me smile today. Thanks!

LOL! That's an awesome story, Southern Gal! Had me literally laughing out loud reading it. Thanks for sharing. It's amazing the lengths some people will go through just to create that perfect "achoo" sound when sneezing... or in your case, when scream-sneezing. I'm glad you were able to take care of things and return peace and quiet (and normal sneezing) to the office. :-)

Annoyed in my cubicle on December 8, 2009 6:59 PM

Thanks for the post. There is someone in my office that over-enunciates "ah-choo". Sometimes the "ah-choo" is so loud it muffles the actual sneeze so it sounds like she's yelling "ah-choo" across the room as if begging, "someone please aknowledge my bodily functions." It is very annoying. I do delight when a sneeze sneaks up on her and she doesn't have time to cover it with the enunciation; those rare moments prove it's not natural.

Thanks for sharing your account, Annoyed. Funny how we all know people like this. It's rather amusing that your co-worker sometimes doesn't have the time to yell "achoo" when a sneeze sneaks up on her without much warning. That says it all. Some people just want to, or perhaps feel the need to say "achoo" when they sneeze.

I got a great chuckle when I read your article on Sneezing…You see my Girlfriend & I had a conversation while trying to fall asleep last night about her sneeze…She pronounces “Ahh…Pooh”…and I always make a joke about Apu from the Simpson’s not being here…lol…At any rate I woke up this morning and Google’d “what sound does a sneeze make?”…only to happen across your site…My Girlfriend got a great kick knowing that the sound of a sneeze is not necessarily “Ahh…Choo”, but perhaps a “learned pronunciation”…Oh btw She’s French Canadian, so Ahh…Pooh, is quite acceptable in this case, because Ahh…Choo is likely English…LOL…Thank you for your article…it brought a great smile to both of us…and we love your animated self image of the sneeze…Bob & Lyne

Thanks for sharing your girlfriend's sneeze pronunciation, Bob. Most people (I've heard) tend to sneeze along the lines of "ah-choo", with slight variations. This is the first I've heard of an "ah-POOH". LOL I wonder if every time your girlfriend sneezes, Apu sells another "Squishee"? :-P he he he

Glad you enjoyed my take on the whole saying "ah-choo" while sneezing phenomenon. You let Lyne know that I dig the "ah-pooh" approach to sneezing. It's fresh and new... at least to me. :-)

Really interesting. My stepdad used to sneeze violently in fits of 10 to 15 with a loud "Ighhh FWEEEE! type of sound. Definitely not a-choo!
My own natural sneeze is more like "ahhhtschwiii!(a prolonged short i sound at the end.

Thanks for sharing, Mark. :-) Interesting sneeze sounds. I don't think I've heard either of those before. Got to give some credit for having a unique sneeze outside the "ah-choo" sound utilized by so many.

Mind-blown. on April 8, 2010 6:55 PM

This is a very interesting page, I must say.
I've always wondered how people sneeze like that, because personally, I don't vocalize much. The only part I can't control in my voice is the "heh" in my sneeze. Not sure why... But then the rest just sounds like a sneeze.
I came across this video of what sounds like a teenage boy having a fit of sneezing. Sounds like allergies to me. But he sneezes 4 times in a row with barely any breaths and yet he manages to make a sound very close to "achoo." It sounds like "hah'tchoo!" It's almost perfectly enunciated each time, apart from the last sneeze of his double at the end of the video that sounds a lot breathier than the rest.
My mind is blown. Haha.
Well here's the link.
One more thing. I've always wondered if people interpret the sound of a sneeze different than others since there are so many different syllables. So, what do you think the sneeze sounds like in that video?
And do you think that's natural or forced?

Hi Mind-blown. Thanks for sharing your personal sneeze style and including a video link to a great example of how many people tend to pronounce their sneeze in the "achoo" fashion. Your spelling of the noise he made is pretty accurate, IMO. I do believe his sneeze-sound is forced, or perhaps better put, a learned sneeze vocalization that is probably mostly automatic now. I think most people who make the traditional "achoo" sound are not consciously aware of the fact that they do so, yet did, in fact, learn to do so at a young age. As children, we mimic our parents and a variety of other things we see and hear, which includes the sound we hear when others sneeze. Although not everyone will end up mimicking the same sneeze sound, many do tend to pick up on and stick with the popular "achoo" method.

People probably do interpret the sound of a sneeze differently, from one to the next. Not to get too deep, but everyone's mind tends to pay attention to things in slightly different ways and proportions. For instance, when listening to a song, one person's mind may focus more on the melody of the singing, while another person may be paying more conscious thought to the harmony, bass riff, percussion, rhythm, or any of hundreds of elements in the musical recording. The same goes for pretty much any noise - people pick up on things differently, if every so subtly, based on their auditory acuity and how their mind is prone to analyze it.

Hi Todd, a great lil' article. I've got a bit of a cold and have been embracing my sneezes. Recently my sneezes have developed into a sort of cough/sneeze confusion that make me doubt myself momentarily. But on occasion, I notice myself making the "achoo" sound and wondered why "achoo". So I chose to experiment. As you say, sneezes are sneeky sometimes and don't provide much time to name them as we kindly give them birth.

It was difficult to break my programming at first but I managed to say "achaa". The "ah" just snook up on me but I remembered to morph the ending just in time. Not very creative I must admit but I tend to think very slowly. My future sneezes will be better. My aim is to give each sneeze a unique name. I think I'll start with comic book sound effects such as "ka pow!" or "huff choom!", then move on to random words like "spare leaf" and "snug flume", maybe some people names, "Sally Bishop" or "Geoff Peebles". From there I should have enough sneeze autonomy to advance to more complex terminology, perhaps "cystic fibrosis" or "dodecahedron" but that is a dream.

But back to "achoo" a moment. From my inquiry into it - how I found your site - it does appear the sound of a sneeze is a cultural thing. Incredibly however (sarcasm), no-one seems to have looked at this from a virus's point of view. It may be coincidence but the "achoo" makes for a good long distance expulsion from the host. The shape of the jaw and cheeks during the "achoo" act in the fashion of a gun being cocked and shot. Maybe the flu virus just likes to fly.

You're Gif is brilliant by the way.

Thanks for the compliment on my animated "achoo" GIF and for sharing your recent experiments in sneezing, Blabaweb. :-) I rather enjoyed your comment, LOLing pretty good a few times while reading.

Congrats on getting out an "achaa" - a sneeze that started out traditionally enough, and then morphed into a karate-sounding (?) noise part way through as your conscious efforts took control. I like your future plans for "ka pow", but I'd be careful about "huff choom" or anything else with an "ffff" sound mid-way through. My guess is that the sneeze may attempt to escape more through the nose during the formation of the "f" consonants, which requires the lower lip to touch the upper frontal teeth, thus minimizing the escape route of the high-pressured sneeze contents through the mouth and forcing it to find another exit route. You may end up with a high degree of unwanted snot expulsion in the process, especially during a cold, and if you do, please remember to share. :-P

Who knows, perhaps the flu virus has worked out a way to coax us into making the achoo sound, which may very well hold the key to maximum spread and dispersal of the virus.

Having a cold or the flu sucks, but it sounds like you'll at least make the most of your 5-day condition - to explore strange new sneeze noises; to seek out new expulsion methods and dispersal patterns; to boldly sneeze as no man has sneezed before. ** cue Star Trek opening theme **

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