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Danish word of the day: Prosit

The Local (news@thelocal.com)
The Local ([email protected])
Danish word of the day: Prosit

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

You’ll need a tissue and, latterly, your elbow at hand for ‘prosit’, today’s Danish word of the day.

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What is prosit? 

Prosit is the standard Danish response when someone sneezes. 

It comes from the Latin word prosit, which literally means something like "may it be good", from the verb prosum. 

So why do Danes offer this courtesy to sneezing friends and co-workers?

You can roughly translate it as "bless you". Like in Anglophone cultures, there are some links to the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages, but there are other possibilities that might also explain the Danish habit of saying prosit.

There are several different theories and it's impossible to know for sure, but some say it's because sneezes were thought to be due to interference from good or evil spirits, so a blessing was intended to ward off potentially evil spirits.

Another theory goes that centuries ago, people believed your heart stopped momentarily when you sneezed, while others still say that the expression originated during the plague, when people blessed sneezing friends in a bid to ward off the mysterious sickness.

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Why do I need to know prosit?

Whatever the answer, most Danes will respond to a sneeze with a thoughtful prosit – and it's the same in Swedish and Norwegian, too.

In many cultures, people respond to sneezes by either saying "bless you" or "good health". In German, for example, the usual response to sneezing is Gesundheit! (literally "health" with the understood meaning of "I wish you good health") while Prost! also deriving from Latin prosit is used as a toast when drinking.

The late Swedish etiquette expert Magdalena Ribbing noted that it is polite to say prosit the first time someone sneezes, but that if they're caught in a sneezing attack, you don't need to keep repeating it.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, when sneezing in public became something approaching a faux pas, it became far more common to bury one’s face in the inside of the elbow when sneezing, instead of covering your mouth with your hand.

This habit has persisted to an extent in Denmark as it has elsewhere, but saying prosit is still a considerate response.

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