The verb sneeze was first written down sometime in the fifteenth century, but it had a lot of different forms throughout history. Around that same time, the words snese, sneese, scniese, and sneez were all recorded, among others. Even earlier, in Middle English, it was spelled fnesen, and the story of how that first letter changed is actually quite interesting. Back then, people sometimes used the long s, an archaic way of spelling the letter that looked sort of like an f (ſ), and since fn- words are so infrequent in the English language, people just assumed that spelling was incorrect and changed it to have a long s instead. Fnesen (which still had the same meaning) comes from Old English fneosan and Proto-Germanic fneu, ultimately deriving from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction pneu, meaning "to breathe".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a sophomore studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.