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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Bless you!

It's winter, and many of us are sneezing (especially if we didn't get our flu vaccine). But until the mid-1400s, people fnesed (this wonderfully evocative word was pronounced “fnayz”). While words starting with fn- became rare, there were many starting with sn-, especially nose-related ones like “snivel”, “sniff”, “snort”, and “snot”. Gradually the venerable “fnese”, which dated back to Anglo-Saxon times, was supplanted by “sneeze”.
For the history of the word "flu", click here, and if you're wondering how to make it plural, click here.
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  1. Hello,

    My guess is (was!) that the current English word is related to (not directly, not descending from) the Latin one ("sternutare"). But that one started with an "s" longer time ago ...

    So, I'm not sure anymore.


  2. Not related to sternutare, but possibly ultimately related to the Greek root pneu (breathe).


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.