Sneeze and Laugh

Two human actions that have always intrigued me are sneezing and laughing. Both feel impulsive and unplanned, natural and spontaneous. I have tried without success to unearth detailed physiological definitions of either one. The best I can come up with is that sneezing is making a sudden involuntary expulsion of air from the nose and mouth caused by irritation of the nostrils. And laughing is producing the spontaneous sounds and movements of the face and body that are the instinctive expressions of lively amusement or, less often, of contempt or derision.

As a writer of fiction, I regularly have recourse to laughter in creating scenes, especially those involving two or more people. Laughs can be honest and wholesome, cruel and hurtful, snide and insulting. And English has many words for various kinds of laughs—chuckle, giggle, snigger, snicker, hoot, snort, cackle, chortle, guffaw, titter—the list goes on. The emotional quality of each of these words is distinctive and specific. They allow me as a writer to be quite explicit.

Sneezing is another matter altogether. It does not express emotion and is not inherently expressive. Only occasionally is it funny or alarming, and then only because of the circumstances, not due to the act itself. Unlike laughing, sneezing has no alternative designations, except the highly technical term, sternutation. I use sneezing so rarely in my stories and novels that I can’t think of single example.

So here I am as a writer with one valuable human action and one useless one. I guess I shouldn’t complain. Better one than none

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