Adventures in Etymology – Photoptarmosis


Do you sometimes sneeze when you see the sun or when you are exposed to another bright light? If so, you, like me, might have:

photoptarmosis [ˈfəʊ.tə.tɑɹ.məʊsɪs / ˈfoʊ.tə.tɑː.moʊsɪs]:

  • an inherited and congenital autosomal dominant reflex condition that causes sneezing in response to numerous stimuli, such as looking at bright lights.

It comes from the Ancient Greek words φωτω- (phōtō), from φῶς (phôs – light) and πταρμός (ptarmós – sneeze). The condition is also known as photic sneeze reflex, Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst (ACHOO) syndrome, sun sneezing or photosneezia [source].

The word φῶς (phôs), is the Attic form of φᾰ́ος (pháos -light, daylight, a day), which comes from the PIE *bʰéh₂os, from *bʰeh₂- (shine). [source].

The first part of the word phosphorus comes from the same Ancient Greek root (φῶς), while the second part comes from φέρω (phérō – to bear, carry), so phosphorus is “the bearer of light” [source].

Incidentally, the word Pharaoh, as in a supreme ruler of Ancient Egypt, comes from the Ancient Egyptian words pr ꜥꜣ [pɛr ɑːʔɑ] (palace, pharaoh), or literally “great/big house”, and has nothing to do with light, but Φάρος (Pháros) does – it was the Lighthouse of Alexandria and one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World [source].

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

The word πταρμός (ptarmós – sneeze), comes from πτάρνυμαι (ptárnumai – to sneeze), and is the root of the English words ptarmic (a substance, such as pepper or snuff, that causes sneezing) and ptarmoscopy (the divinatory interpretation of sneezes) [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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