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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why do people in Spain say ‘Jesus’ when someone sneezes?

Something foreigners often pick up on while in Spain is that it's common for Spaniards to shout out ‘¡Jesús!’ when somebody sneezes. Why is this the case?

Why do people in Spain say 'Jesus' when someone sneezes?
Nowadays, you are perhaps more likely to hear a Spaniard say ‘salud’ (health) rather than 'Jesús' after a sneeze, especially as an increasing number of people in Spain are no longer religious.  Photo: Brandon Nickerson/Pexels

Jesus’s name comes up often in Spain, not least because it’s a perfectly acceptable name for a man (often for women as well: María Jesús), whereas in most other Christian countries the moniker is reserved solely to refer to Jesus Christ. 

But there’s another common use of Jesus’s name that comes up often in Spain. 

Someone sneezes, and the person closest to them – even if they’re a complete stranger – will shout ¡Jesús!, to which the sneezer will reply gracias (thank you). 

It’s similar to how English speakers will respond to a sneeze with ‘bless you’, or French speakers will say ‘santé’, but why do Spaniards choose instead to name Christ?

According to Spanish priest Jesús Luis Sacristán in an interview with Cadena Ser, “in ancient times, both Romans and Greeks thought that sneezing was a sign that the gods were warning you of something, a divine warning” as it was already understood that consistent sneezing could precede illness. 

Obviously, Greeks and Romans weren’t uttering Jesus’s name back then, but instead shouting ‘May Zeus save you’, or ‘Hail!’.

With the advent of Christianity and devout Catholicism in Spain, this old tradition of praising the gods took on a more alarmist approach in that sneezes were considered to represent the devil’s attempted entry into our bodies. 

Inquisition-wary Spaniards would reportedly shout Jesus’s name out loud several times, which eventually gave way to saying His name just once. 

The tradition of uttering Jesus’s name post-estornudo (sneeze) didn’t spread to other Catholic countries however, in a similar way to how Jesus isn’t a man’s name in France and Italy. 

Nowadays, you are perhaps more likely to hear a Spaniard say ‘salud’ (health) after a sneeze, especially as an increasing number of people in Spain are no longer religious. 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Spanish Word of the Day: Chungo

This adjective is essential slang talk in Spain, a word with lots of meanings, all of them fairly negative.

Spanish Word of the Day: Chungo

Chungo is a colloquial way of saying that something is difficult, dodgy or bad. 

It can be used to describe a variety of scenarios and it’s a great way of talking like a native Spanish speaker. 

You can talk about the weather being chungo if there are ominous black clouds up ahead.

If you’re stepping into a dodgy neighbourhood, then watch out because it’s un barrio chungo

If you bought a hairdryer at the rastro (flea market) and it doesn’t work properly, then it’s clearly chungo, and the seller is just as chungo.

Maybe you’ve just sat an exam with complicated questions, you’d call it un examen chungo.

Or if you don’t feel very well, then you’re the one that is chungo

There’s even an expression to say that things aren’t looking good – la cosa está chunga.

All in all, chungo is a very versatile adjective that you can incorporate into most daily speech even though it’s colloquial. 

Here are some examples to help you get used to using chungo.

Example:

Está el tiempo un poco chungo, mejor no vamos a la playa.

The weather isn’t very good today, it’s best if we don’t go to the beach. 

Example:

¡Ojo! Es un tío bastante chungo así que no te fíes de él.

Be careful! He’s a pretty dodgy guy so don’t trust him. 

Example:

Le has comprado un perfume muy chungo a mamá por el Día de la Madre.

You’ve bought Mum a really crappy perfume for Mother’s Day.

Example:

El barrio de El Príncipe en Ceuta es muy chungo, ¡ten cuidado!

El Príncipe neighbourhood in Ceuta is very dodgy, be careful!

 

Example:

Me encuentro un poco chungo, con mareos y nauseas. 

I’m feeling a bit bad, I’m dizzy and nauseous. 

Example:

¿Dama de honor cuando el novio es tu ex? ¡Qué situación más chunga!

Maid of honour when the groom is your ex? ¡That’s an uncomfortable situation!

Example:

¡La cosa está chunga! El Barça tiene que marcar cinco goles para clasificarse.

Things aren’t looking good. Barça have to score five goals to qualify.

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