Part mind map and part photomontage. Stream of consciousness writing and intuitive associations to “sneeze” diagrammed as an illustration.




A sneeze is an explosion, an escaping release, a forceful ejection, of illness and debris, of pest and saliva. It is also the expulsion of sound. Sound has to do with language. Many Sn- words are nose-related: Sneeze, Snoring, Sniff, Snuffle. Interestingly, the sounds of the nose are languages of contempt: Sneer, Snicker, Snooty, Snitch. Contempt is a form of judgment. Of judgment, religion comes to mind.


This reflex response is a habitual utterance with a religious origin. It is a blessing and prayer, a wishful call to God for protection. That protection could shield the sneezer from the plague and, therefore, the coming death that the sneeze indicates. It could also protect against evil spirits from snatching the soul expelled with the sneeze. A more cynical read of the protection would be that the listener is really more concerned with protecting themselves. Maybe the response is a projection of fear and disgust, trying to keep themself clean from contamination.

Some folklore associates the sneeze with a neutral spirit, good or bad, trying to enter or leave the body. Suppose it is the case that the sneeze is not a sign of the looming devil but actually a lucky omen that brings good luck and fortune. In that case, the blessing is kind gratitude and respect for what the sneeze has bestowed upon them. The social behavior is a spread of care and compassion that, hopefully, humanity is grounded in—although sometimes briefly disturbed, like a sneeze, by the fickleness of man, nonetheless always present underneath.