View Full Version : Why do we make the "achoo!" sound when we sneeze?
11-06-2003, 04:38 PM
Most people seem to make this sound when they sneeze. I am simply wondering why we don't "apoo" or "amoo" or "aloo"? Does the force of the sneeze cause our mouths to make the "ch" sound? Do we do this because we have heard others make the sound when imitating sneezes? I haven't had the time to experiment ( I don't have a cold right now) but I am wondering if you can concentrate on making another sound when sneezing and be succesful.
11-06-2003, 06:52 PM
Well. I think the 'ah' is the inhalation sound that you make just before the exhalation sound, and it's probably standard in most people. The exhalation sound, on the other hand can be anything. My fathers sounded like "RUSSIA'. Then, there is the sound some women make, because they are embarrassed(?) It's a PHHHttt sound. You can make any sound you like, I think. I often sneeze with a "ha....shit!'
11-06-2003, 07:31 PM
yeah, my dad's sneeze is kinda like russia, but i've always thought of it as "hush-CHUH!"
Itīs a cultural thing, different cultures have, on average, a distinctive sneeze; take it as an accent.
I read an article on that many moons ago... so, YMMV
11-06-2003, 08:39 PM
I can't really answer the question, but there's a woman I work with who very much does NOT make an "ah-choo!" sound.
Instead, she actually *screams*. She kind of goes, "yyEAAAAHHHHGH!!!!"
And it's seriously so loud (especially in the context of a cubicle farm) that one experiences a moment of disorientation, followed by the sound of people gasping in surprise all around.
11-06-2003, 10:35 PM
Most people don't go "achoo," just like most cows don't actually say "moo." Instead, the "achoo" and the "moo" are attempts to represent in English the sounds we hear when sneezing and lowing occur. See the Straight Dope's article on the subject of cross-cultural comparisons of animal noises: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a950505a.html
Now pretend it was talking about onomatopoeic words in general.
In answer to your other question, yes, it is physically possible not to say "achoo" when sneezing. In the Philippines, people say "hatsing" instead. Not hat and sing, in English orthography it would be "ha-ching!"
Moo the Magic Cow
11-07-2003, 01:43 AM
Achoo is not moo. Achoo is a sound produced by humans, and is not the same sort of onomatopoeia as a sound produced by animals. We can mimic ourselves rather well, and as you said, the orthography is the biggest difference between our interpretations and that of non-english speakers. The french, for example, write 'achoum' which is practically the same as 'achoo,' as opposed to the three or four completely different African pronunciations of animal sounds featured in your link.
That being said, I'd like to venture a guess and say that the sneeze does force the achoo sound to be made. However, there is a WIDE variety of sneezes. I've heard the weirdest sounds come out of people.
Now let's break it down.
The 'ah' is most certainly the sound of a quick breath before the sneeze. Breathe in fast and you'll hear it.
The sound 'ch,' according to my linguistics book, is a voiceless affricate. What does that mean? I'll do my best. It's voiceless because it does not use the vocal cords, which is most often something you do intentionally, and a sneeze certainly is not as such. It's an affricate because your tongue hits the roof of your mouth briefly, causing friction in the airflow (probably trying to keep that crazy sneeze inside as a reflex).
The 'oo' I would say is in question, as it isn't all that common and is formed by rounding one's lips.
Hopefully a linguist or an ear nose and throat man will be along to correct me.
11-07-2003, 04:17 PM
When my dog sneezes, a surprisingly human sound, my wife and I always say 'God bless you'..and the dog barks, without fail. :)
11-07-2003, 05:03 PM
Moo, (what an appropriate name), if you're simply saying that an involuntary inhalation followed immediately by an explosive exhalation produces similar sounds in different people, then yes, I agree with you. However, if you're saying that "achoo," that specific combination of sounds, is universally produced by people that sneeze, then I would have to disagree.
From the example I gave, instead of the "ch" (can you represent IPA on this board?) sound, Filipinos use "sh." Also notice that instead of an "oo" sound, there is instead "i," which you mentioned anyway. I've actually heard people say "hatsing!" when sneezing. Notice that the final nasal is not represented in the English sound, though the French apparently hear it.
In fact, my brother doesn't go achoo or hatsing, he actually says "gwapo ko!" when he sneezes (it's a rather silly joke in Filipino). Me, I just go "ha-ahh!"
Oh, and the Japanese represent the sound as "hakushon!"
11-07-2003, 05:29 PM
An old cow-orker of mine literally, and very distinctly said "Ah-choo" when she sneezed. It wasn't very plosive or productive at all. She just said in a speaking tone and volume level, "Ah-choo".
11-07-2003, 05:38 PM
My dad forgoes the "choo" and simply sneezes in an explosive "AAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
Moo the Magic Cow
11-07-2003, 08:10 PM
if you're simply saying that an involuntary inhalation followed immediately by an explosive exhalation produces similar sounds in different people, then yes, I agree with you. However, if you're saying that "achoo," that specific combination of sounds, is universally produced by people that sneeze, then I would have to disagree.
It was the first one. I did mention there is a "WIDE variety of sneezes." No sneeze sounds precisely the same, but most have a similar sound. That's why you notice when someone has a very peculiar sounding sneeze.
11-08-2003, 08:29 AM
Originally posted by alimarx
An old cow-orker of mine literally, and very distinctly said "Ah-choo" when she sneezed.
And I'd have expected an old cow-orker to say moo. . .
11-08-2003, 08:56 AM
I can't believe I'm doing this*, but I'm sitting here with a pepper pot, all in the name of research.
OK, just made myself sneeze like a bastard. Here's my theory - the "ch" is actually a habitual attempt at suppression. Next time you sneeze, try not to put your tongue to your teeth - "AAAAAUUUUUUUU[GH]UUUUUUUU" is the sound it makes - the [GH] is an unaspirated scrape of the larynx - but it makes a terrible mess too... So as kids we're taught - or teach ourselves - the habit of suppressing it in order not to spray everywhere. If we were from a culture that didn't care about hygiene or sprayed mucus, we'd sneeze with a fully open throat and mouth, and wouldn't say "atchoo" at all.
*I suppose it's only fair, seeing as I got people to stick their wedding rings up their noses...
11-08-2003, 01:41 PM
when i was in elementary school, someone suggested to say "watermelon" to prevent a sneeze by somehow releasing pressure without an actual sneeze. but this only works if you get the perfect timing.
11-08-2003, 01:57 PM
When I sneeze if I don't block it with the "ch", it hurts my throat, because it is too forceful, like a scream. Plus, it doesn't really get into the nose, which is a purpose of the sneeze.
So I think the "ch" is to concentrate the sneeze up through the nose, while easing the strain on the throat. It is not a total block because otherwise the pressure buildup in the sinuses would be too great -- the mouth is the safety valve.
11-10-2003, 09:17 AM
"Tschi"--that's my sneezes, very harsh, loud, and "Slavic-sounding". No "Ah" at all. They're almost always very sudden and I've pulled shoulder muscles sometimes from sneezing.
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