Irish for Americans: Dia Linn

Stand back, said the Edison film, I’m going to sneeze.

As much as is possible, I have tried to steer clear of overtly religious language in this project, recognizing that not all Irish-Americans share the same religion, or even subscribe to any religion at all. But one cannot discuss Irish honestly without recognizing that it is a language deeply informed by Catholicism from a country where a sizable percentage of the population was and remains religious. And so we shouldn’t be surprised that a typical response to someone sneezing is the phrase “Dia linn,” meaning “God be with us.” After all, how many Americans say “God bless you” when someone sneezes?

I will note that some Americans have adopted the word sláinte, meaning “health,” as an alternative; I grew up in Minnesota, and so grew up with the word gesundheit, which means the same thing, although when I say it in places without so strong a German presence, people sometimes respond with confusion, because why did I just start speaking German? Sláinte is liable to get the same response — to many people, including most actual Irish people, it’s a toast, and so calling it out after a sneeze would sound a bit like crying out “Bottom’s up!”

And so, if you wish to be widely understood, it’s probably best to stick with Dia linn, and why not? Saying something after a sneeze is a superstitious gesture anyway, and it seems strangely churlish to say “I am okay with a protective magical shout after sternutation, but I draw the line at invoking deities.” But use language as you see best fit, or don’t use it at all, if that’s your preference. This project is a smorgasbord of Irish words and phrases, and you may choose to use or not use any of it, depending on your tastes.

For those who wish to use Dia linn, however, I would like to point out that the phrase has made it to America. In fact, as I am a Minnesotan, you’re not going to be able to stop me, as Dia Linn was the name of the very first treatment center exclusively for female alcoholics, located in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. The center was founded in 1956 and named after its founder, Pat Butler, took a trip to Ireland.

One can’t help but wonder if  sláinte was considered.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.