Gesundheit

Gesundheit

[guh-zoont-hahyt]
Gesundheit (ɡəˈzʊntˌhaɪt) is the German and Yiddish word for health. When a person sneezes, German, Yiddish, and American English speakers typically say Gesundheit! to wish them good health, serving much the same purpose as "bless you" in English. The expression arrived in America with early German immigrants, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and doubtless passed into local English usage in areas with substantial German-speaking populations. The expression is first widely attested in American English as of 1910, about the time when large numbers of Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the United States. The correct Yiddish pronunciation is gezunterheyt געזונטערהייט.

When used in an English context the word is often pronounced as [ɡəˈzʊntaɪd] or [ɡəˈzʊntaɪt].

Use

Gesundheit is also used in Australia. It was imported to South Australia through the Evangelical Lutheran refugees who fled the established Lutheran church in the east of Germany. These Silesian immigrants spoke their own language until the two World Wars caused a dramatic decline in the use of German in Australia. Gesundheit was used until recent times by the majority English speaking population. Its usage seems now to have declined.

The expression is also found in Jewish custom. Although not technically part of Jewish Law (Halacha), the custom of saying gezuntheit, tzu gezunt, labree'ut, or God bless you is considered a mannerly custom. It is written in Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer (51) that the patriarch Jacob was the first person to become ill before passing on. Before that, people would sneeze and die. When God infused the soul into Man, He "blew it" into Adam's nostrils. Thus, when it came time for the soul to be returned to its Maker, it would leave through the same portal it arrived.

Occasionally in popular culture, if a character in, for example, a cartoon says a particularly long or complex word or phrase, someone else will often sarcastically say "Gesundheit" in return, owing to the awkwardness of the way the word sounds.

Gesundheit can also be used to refer to Skewes' number (10^10^10^34); one of the largest numbers ever used in a mathematical proof.

References

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