Why do we say "Bless you", or "God bless", when someone sneezes?
Don't get me wrong - I know the answer. I just wonder if you do.
I asked this to a few co-workers, out of curiosity. Because I like messing with people's heads, and co-workers are soooo convenient. The general consensus I got back was "it's polite". Or "why do you always ask this weird shit? Leave me alone!"
Well. If it's polite...then why don't we say it when people cough? Or burp? Or fart? "Brrrrrpppp!" "God bless you!"
We don't, do we? No. We expect the person to say "excuse me".
So why don't we expect the same with sneezes? Why is a sneeze different from any other bodily expulsion of air?
One word: superstition. Of course. We're creatures of habit, and refuse to change. Even when it's something so basic and simple as how to respond to a sneeze. The original, full phrase (or so rumored) was "God bless you, and may the Devil miss you!" Why? There are a bunch of different suspicions on how it originated:
- At one time people believed a man's soul could be inadvertently thrust from his body by an explosive sneeze, thus "Bless you!" was a protective oath uttered to safeguard the temporarily expelled and vulnerable soul from being snatched up by Satan (who was always lurking nearby). The purpose of the oath was to cast a temporary shield over the flung-out soul which would protect it just long enough to regain the protection of the corporeal body.
- Conversely, the sneeze itself was the expulsion of a demon or evil spirit which had taken up residence in a person. Therefore, although the "Bless you!" was again a protective charm meant to protect the sneezer from evil, in this version it was meant to ward off the re-entry of an evil spirit which a tormented soul had just rid itself of.
- The heart was believed to momentarily stop during a sneeze (it doesn't), thus the "Bless you!" was uttered either as a supplication for life to return or as a congratulation upon its successful restart.
- Others claim an association of the practice with particular dire diseases (most often the bubonic plague, or "Black Death," as it is sometimes known). They say an infected person's sneeze was sure sign he'd soon be pushing up daisies, thus the "Bless you!" was intended as a benediction to the nearly-departed, a way of commending his soul to the care of God now that he was beyond the help of anything in the mortal world.
There are more superstitions related to sneezing. Here's a little poem that was written, outlining the positive aspects of a sneeze:
Sneeze on Tuesday for wealth,
Sneeze on Wednesday for a letter,
Sneeze on Thursday for something better,
Sneeze on Friday for sorrow,
Sneeze on Saturday, see your sweetheart tomorrow,
Sneeze on Sunday, safety seek.
So keep on blessing, you superstitious lot you. And may the devil miss you.