In this column, author Adam Jacot de Boinod explores the weird and wonderful world of German, French and Italian vocabulary, and discovers some rather interesting terms. Let us take a look at what he has found.


In response to someone sneezing, the Germans say Gesundheit, ‘health to you’. The sneezer then responds Danke (‘thank you’). Sometimes other wishes are uttered at following sneezes, e.g. Zufriedenheit (‘contentment’), Reichtum (‘wealthiness’) or (humorously) Schönheit (‘beauty’). The German word Gesundheit has now passed into local English usage in areas with substantial German-speaking populations.

In Italian, one says Salute! meaning ‘[to your] health’
In French the usual response is à tes / vos souhaits which means ‘to your wishes’. If the same person sneezes again, one sometimes says à tes / vos amours, which means ‘to your loves’. If the same person sneezes a third time, then he/she responds to the original greeter saying et que les tiens / vôtres durent toujours, which means ‘and may yours last forever’. A more archaïc response would be Dieu te/vous bénisse (‘God bless you’). Santé (meaning ‘health’) is a common response in some French-speaking countries, including Switzerland.

French is highly imaginative in her adoption of phrases from their literal definition to be given a whole new metaphorical sense:

-faire du lèche-vitrines: to go window shopping (literally, to lick windows)
-remettre les pendules à l’heure: to re-align something (who is the boss, how we work, anything) (literally, to set the clocks at the right time again)
-c’est l’hôpital qui se moque de la charité: it’s the pot calling the kettle black (literally, it’s the hospital that mocks charity)
-être moche a caler des roués de corbillard: to be extremely ugly (literally, to be ugly enough to stop the wheels of a hearse)

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author having written three books about unusual words with Penguin Press.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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