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John W. Pinkerton


I recently developed some kind of illness which looks a lot like a cold to me.  A side effect has been sneezing, not once, not twice, but three times in a row, and I've repeated this pattern often for several days. 

It doesn't take much to get me interested in a subject, so I did a little research and learned  that another name for “sneeze” is “stermutation.”  It's amazing the amount of useless information one can gather while doing a little research. According to my research, “A sneeze is a semi-autonomous convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth, usually caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucose.”

Thanks, Mr. Peabody.  Having this problem has made me a little curious if there are any  facts about sneezing which are worth knowing.

Well, I learned that during a sneeze, the soft palate depresses and the back of the tongue elevates to partially close the passage to the mouth so most of the air from the lungs will be expelled through the nose.  We  don't seem to have much control of this.  Still, pretty dull stuff.

Hold the phone---we can't sneeze while asleep.  Did not know that.  After a moment's thought…why would I.

Contrary to popular belief, we can sneeze with our eyes open: they won't pop out.  I don't want to test this one.

The heart doesn't stop when we sneeze.  No joke.

A few folks (18% to 35%) sneeze upon exposure to bright light.  Vampires? 

A rare trigger for sneezing  is fullness of the stomach.  I thought one burped after a full meal.  Oh, well.

Plucking eyebrows may cause sneezing.  Ha!

Exercise may cause sneezing.  Ah, another reason not to exercise.

Hide the kids before reading  the next reason for a sneeze: sexual arousal.  It seems that for some folks their  wiring is a little crossed.  The nose and the genitals both contain erectile tissue and the body doesn't quite understand which end, the head or the nether region, needs to, well, erect.

Being that sneezes travel at about 100 miles per hour, they're an excellent way of spreading diseases, but you might be able to prevent a sneeze by deep expulsion of the air in your lungs or by pinching your nose for several seconds while holding your breath.  I'll keep those tips in mind, but my sneezes seem to come on so quicky, I doubt I can employ them.

Believe it or not, there are cultural roles for the sneeze.  A bevy of beliefs have been attached to this bodily function: everything from messages from the gods to a bad sign to a good sign.  As a random example: in Polish culture, a popular belief persists that sneezes may be a sign that one's mother-in-law speaks ill of her son-in-law at that moment.  Now you tell me.

We're all familiar with the expressions “(May God) bless you” and “Gesundheit” which means “good health.”   These idioms are preventive measures against illness and death when we sneeze.

Now we'll turn to the record book: the longest sneezing spree: 978 days, a record set by Donna Griffiths of Worcestershire, England.   Yea for the Brits.

We've all noticed dogs and cats sneezing but the sneeziest animal is the iguana which sneezes more often than any other animal.

There are a few idiomatic expressions associated with the sneeze: “nothing to sneeze at,” “sneeze at someone or something.”  “Sneezing” in these cases meaning to dismiss.

The funniest quote I found about sneezing is by James Thurber: “I used to wake up at 4 A.M. and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness.”

Well, another bodily function demystified.  You're welcome.