I’m partially deaf, but that hasn’t stopped me from detecting a distinctive difference in the way different people sneeze.
Every sneeze has its own sound, and its own look. You could say every sneezer has their own distinctive Sneeze Signature.
Some people’s sneezes arrive as though they are deeply unexpected. An interruption. A shock.
Picture this: a Brian Blessed lookalike, sitting on a train. He’s reading his newspaper when suddenly his head jerks back, his arms fly in the air, and his hand – as if in slow motion – desperately tries to cover his mouth.
Then, as if it were a bullet fired from a gun: “AAAAH-CHOOOO!”
In a split second, his bearded chin hits his chest, his hands hit his thigh. His newspaper billows and floats up into the air. He looks around stunned, red faced.
Or, by way of contrast, picture a Joanna Lumley lookalike in a cafe. She’s talking on the phone when, as if by radar, she detects the mildest hint of something.
“Excuse me,” she says to her companion. She turns her head. A hankerchief daintily appears from her handbag. After a few calm seconds, it arrives, and we hardly even hear:
Yet amid this diverse cast of sneezing characters, I’ve noticed that there’s one constant: that ah-choo sound.
Whether loud or quiet, brief or elongated, when people sneeze, their sneezes nearly always sound like they’re written on the page: Ah-choo.
Because I’ve noticed something else. Something, if I’m frank, that’s a little disturbing. Hearing people tend to make the ah-choo sound, but Deaf people don’t.
Which begs the question: are hearing people faking it?
No, in my view, the bit they’re faking, or exaggerating – like a footballer who bites his opponent then pretends he’s injured to distract the referee from what’s happened (yes, I’m talking about you Luis Suarez) – is the sound.
As they sense a sneeze coming, the hearing person’s brain sends out an alert saying: ‘EMERGENCY! YOU ARE ABOUT TO SNEEZE. IN PUBLIC. MAKE THIS SOUND NORMAL.’ And, in a split second, they add SFX: Ah-choo.
Now, before I prompt another Facebook controversy, I’m not saying that Deaf sneezes sound radically different to a hearing sneeze. That we’re ‘Sneezing Impaired’ or anything like that.
Or that, while a hearing person’s sneezes sound like ‘ah-choo,’ a deaf person’s sneezes sound freakily different, like ‘choo-Ah!’
But they do sound and look – at least to my bog-standard NHS hearing aids and my short sighted eyes – more natural than hearing sneezes.
To me, deaf sneezes sound more like this: a heavy breath as the deep pre-sneeze breath is taken, then a sharper, faster sound of air being released as the sneeze occurs.
There’s none of this ‘aahhh’ sound added as they breathe in. And none of that ‘choo’ malarkey as said sneeze is released.
Why don’t deaf people modify the sound? Well, perhaps obviously, it’s because deaf people can’t hear their own sneezes (or at least, can’t hear them as well). They don’t hear other people’s sneezes either. There is no concept of difference, of social awkwardness, of wanting to fit in.
A sneeze is what it should be – something that just happens.
You may be wondering how I, a partially deaf person, sneeze. The truth is perhaps a tad predictable – I’m a bit of both.
At home, I sneeze like a deaf person: naturally. Always have done.But sometimes, in public, in hearing places, I now realise, at 31 years of age, that I modify. I add the ah-choo.
I’m a bit ashamed of it, if I’m honest, but I reckon it all goes back to being at hearing school and wanting to fit in.
But as of today, I’m trying to change. I want to sneeze organically again, like my deaf friends do. Like my parents do. Like everyone down at the deaf club does.
So I say to other sneeze modifiers reading this: stop holding yourself back. Stop feeling restricted when you sneeze and let it happen naturally.
Sneeze as deaf people do.
That’s Charlie’s view. But do you agree? If you think he’s barking (or sneezing) up the wrong tree, or if you’re a hearing person who sneezes naturally, or for that matter, a deaf person who’s learned the hearing way and fakes it, just let us know, below!
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The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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