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I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Origins, Question of the Month, and Being Thankful

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and moreOrigins is an every-once-in-a-while recurring post in which I delve into the history of a word or phrase.

Today's phrase is: Nothing to sneeze at.

I used this the other day in a comment I left on someone's blog. As soon as I did, I thought, "I wonder where that phrase came from?" And so now, after doing a bit of research, here I am with an explanation.

There was actually a time in 17th and 18th centuries, when it was considered polite to sneeze in good society. Of course good society consisted of the well to-do and aristocracy. So the more you sneezed, the more polite you were. But sneezes are involuntary and spontaneous, so how was a person supposed to sneeze politely on demand? Thus it was that snuff entered the scene. One could stuff a bit of snuff (which was finely ground tobacco) up one's nose and politely sneeze when one wanted to.

But being able to sneeze at will wasn't enough. One had to be able to sneeze for a reason. Sneezing became a part of the conversation among men, a way of showing one's disapproval or disregard over something said, or to express boredom.

The first written example of sneezing in this manner appeared in the 1806 novel, A Winter in London, by Thomas Skinner Surr.

“A word in your ear,” said his lordship: “Do you know, I have quite changed my mind about that business since I met the marquis. He tells me that it’s a sort of thing a young fellow of my expectations ought to sneeze at."

Thus, NOT to sneeze at something has come to mean that something is really worth while. The first written example of the phrase comes from the 1799 play Fortune's Frolic, by John Till Allingham.

“Why, as to his consent I don’t value it a button; but then £5000 is a sum not to be sneezed at.”

And there you have it, the history of sneezing in polite society.

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I joined this monthly bloghop because answering thoughtful/challenging questions is one way to expand one's mind. Hosted by Michael D'Agostino at A Life Examined ,  the question this month is: 

Of all the places in the world that you haven't yet been to, where would you like to go next?

I've done some traveling, particularly around the U. S.

I've been to the Grand Canyon (camped at the Havasupai Indian Reservation twice) Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Death Valley. Been mountain climbing in the Rockies, seen the redwoods. I've seen the Grand Tetons, Bryce Canyon, and Carlsbad Caverns. I've visited places like Roswell, New York City, Washington D. C.(and the Smithsonian) San Francisco, and L. A. to name a few.

Since I live in Texas, I've explored the Alamo and the San Antonio River Walk, walked around Austin, been to Galveston and South Padre Island and driven across the state (north/south, east/west) more than once...

I've also had the opportunity to visit other islands in the Caribbean, St. Lucia, Antigua, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Barbados, St. Maarten/St. Martin. Plus, in 1970, went to Caracas, Venezuela.

Lastly, a few years ago, as some may remember, I went to the Netherlands and had a fabulous time.

Still, there's one place I'd dearly love to visit and spend a least a month or more. Scotland. Why Scotland? I have deep ancestral roots there and would like to go to the towns and villages where my ancestor was born and walk the streets he walked. I'm not sure, at this point in my life, if it will ever happen. Still, it's a dream and a nice one at that.

***
Being Thankful
Today I'm thankful for sunshine. 
After all the rain and weeks (yes weeks) of overcast skies, it's nice to see blue again and stars at night.
***
What are you thankful for? What do you think about sneezing in polite society? Have you traveled anywhere special? Is there some place you'd like to go? If there's a word or phrase you'd like me explore for Origins, mention it in the comments!

29 comments:

  1. I'd taken this phrase for granted. Now I'm imagining lots of rich people with snuff up their noses punctuating conversation with sneezes! Funny how it went from meaning politeness to basically the opposite too.

    You've got a friend in Scotland if you ever make it up here! Whereabouts was your ancestor from? We might be able to help show you around. :)

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    1. Nick, records show he was born in Cottertown, Redgorton Parish, which I believe is near Perth, and descended from the Macdonalds "of Glencoe." There's been quite a bit of genealogy done by various family members.

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  2. Had no idea where that phrase came from. Since allergies make me sneeze all the time, I would've been set back then.
    You would dig Scotland, Bish. Something mystical about that country.

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    1. I know I would, Alex. I'd love to seen the castles, walk in the highlands, sit by a loch...

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  3. Hi Bish - phrases are extraordinary in their origins aren't they. Scotland is a wonderful place to visit ... lots to do too ... but you've seen the Islands - I'd love to visit those and rest a while! Cheers Hilary

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    1. The islands are a great place to visit, the ocean, the beaches... bring sunscreen and bug repellent and lots of money as it's expensive. :)

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  4. That bit about sneezing is so odd. I'm glad this custom has gone out of fashion. Just think about the germs.

    Scotland sounds like an excellent place to visit. Love their accents.

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    1. I'm glad the custom has faded as well!

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  5. Love this Origins post! I didn't know that deliberately sneezing at something was a mark of disdain. I love me a bit of idiom history!

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    1. I didn't know anything about sneezing in public, that it was considered polite! What a hoot.

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  6. Oh, I would love to go to the Grand Canyon. You've been to so many places. I'm jealous. :) Going to a place where you have deep ancestral roots would be a neat experience.

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  7. If you get the opportunity, do go to the Grand Canyon. It's worth the trip!

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  8. Yes, our bright blue skies today are nothing to sneeze at! I've traveled some, but there are a lot of places I still would like to visit. I don't know which one would be at the top of my list.

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  9. I would love someday to visit the Grand Canyon. It's interesting that it was polite to sneeze!

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  10. Interesting story about the expression "Nothing to sneeze at". Who knew it was something done on purpose?

    You've had some interesting travels. We hope to get to The Grand Canyon on our next Vegas trip. Cheers!

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  11. You've been to some awesome places. I'd love to see the redwoods, but not likely to happen on our upcoming trip to CA. Not there long enough and too far north from where we'll be.

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  12. The sneezing thing is weird. I'm just thinking about somebody letting loose a big sneeze and spraying billions of bacteria laden articles into the air. Not quite the same as a polite sneeze.

    I'd like to visit Scotland too, though I'd probably avoid eating haggis and hope they wouldn't play too much bagpipe music--just enough to create some musical atmosphere perhaps.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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  13. The origin of that phrase is so weird! I can't believe people walked around trying to sneeze on purpose at things.

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  14. Fascinating stuff about sneezing! What a delightful choice for an explanation.

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  15. The information about sneezing is great. I hope you get to visit Scotland.

    Love,
    Janie

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  16. I've been to Italy where my ancestors lived, and the goodwill we received from our relatives both close and distant was phenomenal.

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  17. I had no idea about the sneezing. I haven't been to where my ancestors lived yet. That's a great trip goal.

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  18. Well, who knew that's where the expression came from? Thanks for enlightening me!
    Where would I like to go next? As a sometime travel writer, that's not an easy question to answer as I've ticked off quite a lot of countries on my bucket list... possibly Antarctica. :)

    Susan at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

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  19. We've had lots of rain, too. Still having isolated storms. Can't wait to see the stars.
    You've seen some beautiful National Parks, Bish. There are so many beautiful places to visit. I've been lucky. My family has been Camping with Kids for a long time. We've traveled all over the United States and up into Canada to a few places and to Newfoundland.
    Very interesting thing about the sneezing. I've joined your blog. Thanks for sharing with your followers.

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  20. Well,now. I didn't know this about sneezing!

    I would like to go to Yellowstone park, Mount Rushmore, take a ship through the Great Lakes. There are more places, but I will settle for these site for now.

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  21. This was interesting! Never knew the origins of that phrase, but I do enjoy discovering how old phrases came to be. Gosh, there's one measly cloud in the sky and I get all jittery :-) We could really use some rain here in the desert. When monsoons do arrive it often rains all around - you can see the sheets coming down - but not right where we live. Wouldn't it just jar ya?
    You've been to some remarkable places, but Roswell? I'm jealous ;-)

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  22. I've never heard of that phrase before. Thanks for enlightening me. Now I'll be sure to use it :)

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  23. I had no idea where that phrase came from. How fascinating! It is amazing how time has changed the phrase.

    You have been to so many amazing place. I haven't been to many places- yet (just nearby states, and CA and FL). :) I hope you get to Scotland!
    ~Jess

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  24. I didn’t know any of that about sneezing, how fascinating.
    I’m thankful for the same thing as you, although I can hardly believe it! We have so much rain we are usually glad to see the back of it, but it has been very dry lately until today when the heavens opened. I wonder where that phrase came from.

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