Germans typically say, ‘Gesundheit!’ when someone sneezes. This phrase conveys best wishes for good health from all people of any faith or none at all.
One theory suggests that this saying aroses out of superstition during periods of plague. People thought a sneeze could be an early harbinger, so they offered blessings to protect against disease.
When someone sneezes, it is customary to respond with “Guten Bless You”, either politely or as an attempt at protecting against germs in the air. While its origin remains ambiguous, some speculate it originated during medieval plague times when people used this phrase as an effective defense mechanism against its spread through sneezing. People believed sneezing could transmit bubonic plague, so being cautious and wishing others good health was essential in keeping themselves and others safe from disease.
At that time, plague was rapidly spreading and was extremely deadly. People used the expression gesundheit as a way to avoid contracting the disease; eventually it came to represent good health rather than simply worry about infection – an expression still used today across multiple languages.
Gesundheit (pronounced as GOTS-duh) is the go-to response in German when someone sneezes, composed of the words gesund (“healthy”) and heit (“hood”). Gesundheit is also the name of a popular medicine brand in Germany; while in English this response would likely be called an “achoo.”
Other countries with Germanic roots follow Germany’s example in using this greeting; Dutch call it Gesondheid, Luxembourg Gesondheet and Afrikaans Gesondheid respectively. Additionally, this greeting has become part of culture of areas with large concentrations of German immigrants.
People used to believe that sneezing was an expulsion of soul and that saying God bless you could ward off evil spirits; however, given that our heart continues to beat while sneezing occurs, this theory likely cannot hold water.
One possible reason is that it was originally meant as an expression of wishful thinking regarding health; hence its continued usage even today when disease is much less prevalent. Furthermore, saying the phrase as you greet or leave someone is an excellent way of showing your greeting or goodbye and may signify good luck and long life if said with a kiss at its conclusion.
There is considerable linguistic and cultural variation throughout German-speaking regions, so some greetings may vary according to region – not always religiously related. Gruss Gott is widely used in southern Germany (Bavaria and Austria) as a more formal way of greeting someone and can literally translate to “greetings from God”, showing your service. Sometimes this phrase may also be abbreviated to gruss di or griass di.
As with other regional variations of the word, variations vary by region. For instance, in northern Germany the phrase na is more widely used as an informal greeting than its southern equivalents – usually followed by responses like gut, danke or ein schoner Tag.
Moin, which derives from Middle High German word meaning “to serve,” can also be pronounced mahn and can be abbreviated to moh. A staple greeting in northern Germany, it shares similar versatility as its counterpart na. It can serve as an introduction, farewell, greeting or goodbye greeting.
German is full of expressions to praise others and wish for good health, such as saying “zur Gesundheit!” after someone sneezes. In fact, Gesundheit itself is an amalgamation of two German words – gesund (“healthy”) and heit (“hood”). Historically it was thought that when someone sneezed they would be expelled by Satan; saying zu der Gesundheit as an antidote helped prevent evil spirits from entering your body through your sneezes. Today however this custom is widespread globally and we say blessings more often to wish someone good health – no matter where in the world they may live!
There are various theories behind the origin of “god bless you”, with most tracing back to superstition – Google defines this term as an excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings – such as when people believed sneezing expelled souls from bodies, prompting people to respond by saying, “bless you” as protection against devil stealing it away. Another popular theory involves bubonic plague – an infection often fatal; Pope Gregory I encouraged Christians who saw signs of it say, “bless you” to protect those around them against its infection.
No matter which theory is correct, saying bless you after someone sneezes is still considered polite and respectful. Some individuals may not practice religion; in these instances they might prefer saying gesundheit instead of blessing you.
Gesundheit (German for “health”) is the word most frequently used by German speakers when responding to a sneeze; similar to “to your health” in English. Additionally, many other languages like Spanish and Romanian use variations on this phrase too.
As some might find the phrase a little impolite or rude in formal settings like business meetings, people might avoid saying bless you outright; thankfully there are more polite ways of acknowledging a sneeze that are just as respectful – for instance in Germany saying something like, ‘Gesundheit” (“To your health”) would suffice.
China and Japan do not generally react to sneezes by commenting. Brazil and Portugal, on the other hand, tend to acknowledge a sneeze by offering something like an obrigado or que tu encontro response; French may add je suis tu and Italian may use “ciao bella.” Although less formal and less common than German’s blessing you, these phrases tend to be reserved for intimate social settings.
There are multiple variations on the phrase god bless you in German. One common form is called “gruss Gott,” which literally translates to “greeting from God.” This greeting is most frequently heard in southern Germany and Austria. A less frequent variant called pfiat’ di Gott means the same thing but has slightly different pronunciation.
Another variation of “God will help” is Segne es Gott, which means “God will bless you.” This phrase is typically heard in eastern Germany’s Brandenburg and Saxony states and may even be used to complement someone’s health status. Segne es Gott is commonly heard among Germans from these regions but may also be heard elsewhere across Germany. Although not as prevalent, Segne es Gott remains widely known. Segne es Gott can often be heard used in response to Vergelt’s Gott, which means “God will help.” It may also be used in response.
United States natives tend to prefer using “gesundheit” (good luck/well done) instead of “god bless you”, likely as a result of German immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some areas even consider “gesundheit” a high-class greeting or formal salutation. Furthermore, its usage can also be found across other English-speaking nations such as Canada and UK.
Other languages with Germanic roots also utilize “gesundheit” as their translation for “God bless you”. For instance, Dutch has “gedoel”, while in French Dieu te/vous benisse. Yiddish uses “tzu gezunt”, while Afrikaans refers to gesondheid.
Based on your region, there may be various other ways of greeting or saying goodbye. In Bavaria and Austria, for example, one may hear phrases such as greass di or griass eich being spoken; in Northern Germany however, more formal greetings include Servus while more casual farewells include jederzeit wieder (also commonly abbreviated to just wieder).
In the US, it’s also common to hear “God bless you” spoken in German as an expression of appreciation across cultures, often used to build bridges among strangers of diverse origin. Learning these phrases in German could be an enjoyable way of making friends while showing yours!