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Definition: Something that makes one sneeze. Now used as a lab term to refer to something that provokes a sneeze.

Pronunciation: Stern-u-taht-er

Origin: Early 1600s. From Latin sternuere, meaning ‘to sneeze’.

Why This Word?

According to the calendar (though not the rain-clouds , it is now summer in Ireland. Everything from Gorse to Bog Heather is blooming. And so, too, am I. My nose runs as freely as the nectar from the Viper’s Bugloss. The tears flow from my eyes as rapidly as the abundant rivulets of water from a summer spring. And my sneezes usher forth as with the same ferocity as an unexpected dune-buggy on a quiet beach. In short, the pollen in the air acts as a sternutator – that is, something that causes one to sneeze.

The only blessing about a cloudy Irish summer, however, is that the hay-fever does not cause a headache. That’s already there from the low cloud …

How to use the word sternutator in a sentence? 

You are standing outside in the beer garden, drinking something cool and refreshing against the hot summer’s day. Suddenly, that tingle in the back of your nose becomes more noticeable and more urgent. You crumple and sneeze, spilling half of your pint on the wooden flooring. There is only one thing you can say:

“Damn sternutators”.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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