Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Science* Of Sneezing

      There’s a nasty bug going around our neck of the woods. There’s probably one going around where you live as well. Several days ago Mrs. Chatterbox and I were at the mall and she decided to dash into Pottery Barn. I found a bench and proceeded to engage in one of my favorite pastimes—people watching.
     I noticed that many people were sneezing. The vampire sneeze is very popular these days, where you cover your mouth with your arm and sneeze into an invisible cape, which some say is preferable to covering your mouth with your hand and spreading crud like victims in Stephen King’s The Stand. Some people try to stifle a sneeze and make a sound similar to what happens when you remove the air hose after filling your tire.
     Others go for a more literary approach, employing what writing instructors call onomatopoeia—the written description of sound. These folks sneeze like the sound is being read rather than heard. Listeners are subjected to: achoo, atchoo and atisshoo, with the first syllable corresponding to the sudden intake of air and the second to the sound of the sneeze. After his hernia operation my dad’s sneeze became the howl of someone being mauled by a polar bear; my mother discreetly hisses like a garden snake. But it’s not the sound of a sneeze that fascinates me. It’s the serial sneezing.
     Very few people are single sneezers. I myself am a DS—Double Sneezer. I don’t know why I can’t confine myself to one, but just as surely as night follows day my sneeze is soon followed by another. Mrs. Chatterbox is also a DS but she’s sneaky about the second one, tries to cover it with her hand. She thinks I don’t see her nostrils flaring like Secretariat, or her eyes closing. I do. She swears that she’s a SS—Single Sneezer—but this is one of the few areas where she is not to be believed.
     My scientific analysis suggests that DSers are the most common in our population with SSers being the rarest. Yet people sneezing three or four times aren’t all that uncommon. My older brother was a Sixer. When he started blowing it was a funny sight to behold. This might sound insensitive (he did have chronic hay fever) but he frequently picked on me. I took pleasure slapping my knee and counting off sneezes when he was red-faced, bent over and gasping for breath—too preoccupied to run me down and beat me up, which he often did when he wasn’t struggling for air.
     I’ve yet to come upon the Holy Grail of sneezing. Yes, there is a Holy Grail of sneezing and if you’d given it time you’d have figured out what it was without needing me to tell you—catching someone sneezing with their eyes open. The scientific community once thought this impossible and maintained that your eyes would fly out of your head if you did so, but scientists are now divided about this (clearly they have too much time and grant money on their hands.) Once ridiculed for wasting time staring at the sun while trying to sneeze with our eyes open, many of us have now sloughed off public scorn to focus on achieving this elusive phenomenon.
     So what are you? Are you a rare single sneezer? Can you prove it? Do you fall into the category of the ubiquitous DS? Is your Kleenex wet by the time you finish sneeze number….
     Uh oh…I just sneezed. I’m willing to bet a million bucks another one is…yep!



  1. I'm a single sneezer. I didn't know that was rare, however. And I'm certainly NOT discreet....when I sneeze it rattles the blinds. I think people in medically induced comas would open an eye and take a peek, just to find out what that god-awful noise was.


  2. HA! "nostrils flaring like Secretariat..."

    Made ME flare my nostrils. In fact, I can't stop!


  3. I'm a blind rattler and have been known to sneeze anywhere from one time on up... never really worried about how many times.
    Your post reminds me of an off-color email I received the other day.

  4. I sneeze from eight to twelve times, nearly always in the morning. My mother used to say it was an attention-getting device!

  5. I'm often a triple-sneezer, but I do occasionally have a single. And I'm a noisy sneezer. If I try to stifle one, the sound that emerges is much worse than the sound made when removing an air hose from a tire. I have a friend whose sneezes involve the initial sucking in of air, followed by a rapid-fire series of choo-choo-choo-choo-choos. I've never seen anyone else do it quite like she does. Oh, and I cannot keep my eyes open during a sneeze, no matter how hard I try.

  6. I can sneeze many many times and I'd settle for your brothers six sneezes. Hubby swears I'm somewhere around 15 sneezes at one time. I hate it more than anything. The first couple sneezes are too bad, but after that not so much.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  7. I'm either a single- or a double-sneezer. I guess it depends on what gets me going. SWMBO's father was a multiple sneezer - six, seven, eight times in succession.

  8. I like your description of the onomotopoeia sneezes. We had one in Middle School English class and the whole class laughed at her when she sneezed.
    I'm a stifler myself.

  9. I've been know to sneeze up to 15 to 20 times, loud and intense but "dry" and harmless sneezes. I don't know what causes them, I don't have allergies and I'm not sick.

    If I do get sick and I sneeze due to being cold, it's one or two sneezes.

    I've tried to sneeze with my eyes open. Can't be done (at least not by me). Hahaha.

  10. ...but by far the worst is when you can feel a sneeze coming on, and it doesn't come!


  11. Mom's a triple threat. She's been known to part Dad's hair, and send my deaf dog running for cover.