Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Sneezes, Sneezing, and Sneezers
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

My last article, I wrote a piece about puttering, pointing out that while men are really good at it, women can hardly putter at all. Now I feel compelled to point out another area in which men excel. It is the most obvious, yet the most often overlooked. I'm sure you all know to what I am referring. Yes, you've guessed it: The Sneeze!

I know there is a certain danger in making blanket statements, but with few exceptions, men are better sneezers than women. Generally men sneeze like an eruption of Old Faithful while Women's sneezes are more like shorts bursts from an aerosol can.

The verbal characterization of a sneeze, "Ah-choo," certainly did not originate with a woman. If it had, it would have been more like "chiff."

As a high school teacher for many years, I observed countless student sneezes. Invariably, boys would pretty much clear their desks with an average sneeze. Girls' sneezes were hardly noticeable. There was an exception. One year, a girl in one of my classes sneezed with a high-pitched "YIPE."

I haven't the slightest idea how she did that. I was always hoping she would catch cold or develop an allergy so I cold study it further.

Much of my teaching career centered on biology, and yet with all my vast experience, I do not fully understand what a sneeze is.

Think about it: tickle your nose and you explode! That's a pretty bizarre reaction to a rather mild stimulus.

It is said, and it seems to be true, that you cannot sneeze with your eyes open. I'm afraid women may have the advantage here. Especially if driving in heavy traffic. Their little, petite sneeze required no more than a blink, while in my case my eyes may be closed for several seconds.

For some reason, sneezing has always been funny to me. In fact, the word, "sneeze" is funny itself. It comes from an ancient Germanic term, "fnusen," which can only be pronounced correctly while sneezing. Good word, fnusen. Too bad it's not still in use.

I think most of us men take price in our ability to sneeze long and loud. We sneeze with such gusto and enthusiasm that I'm sure women must be jealous.

My father was on of the all-time great sneezers. World-class, I'd say. You could hear him a block away. And that was when he was in the house. If he sneezed outdoors, people all over town said "Gesundheit!"

I am proud to have inherited some of Dad's talent. I am not a large man, but I sneeze like a sumo wrestler. (The thought of a sneezing Sumo conjures up a rather frightening mental picture, doesn't it?) I often sneeze for no reason at all. Colds and allergies are helpful, but not necessary. My sneezes come in groups of three or four, and lately I've developed the highly-regarded double-sneeze; you know two sneezes in quick succession with no chance to such in a breath between them. Double-sneezes are at once exhilarating and devastating. I usually have to sit down for awhile, if the act itself hasn't knocked me down already.

And is there anything worse than the sneeze that does not come to fruition? You get all primed and cocked for a humongous sneeze, complete with "ah- ah- ah-" and nothing happens. It is one of the great recurring disappointments of life, surpassed only by the pony that never showed up all those Christmas mornings.

Men everywhere should be proud of their natural sneezing talent. And while some may look down on the talent, take heart. It is nothing to fnusen at!

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