"Bless You" when someone sneezes

Posted by Bob on September 06, 2000

In Reply to: "Bless You" when someone sneezes posted by Dr JOhn Wallace on September 06, 2000

: : : : : I am looking for the origin of why we say "Bless You", when someone sneezes. Help??

: : : : I always thought it was because at one time the ancients thought a person was composed of various vapors or gases that kept you alive physically and spiritually and when you sneezed you lost some of these vapors thereby reducing your ability to live a healthy life.
: : : : So when you sneezed your companion would pray to God asking for His help in restoring your vapors to its previous healthy condition.
: : : : The above is just something I always thought to be true---I have no references to back it up!

: : : Another suggestion. In Britain there is a very old nursery rhyme called "ring 'o ring 'o roses" in which there is a verse " atishoo, atishoo, all fall down". This goes back to the times of the plague (Pneumonic version) which was characterised by initial sneezing prior to the rest of the symptoms and then probable death. Perhaps the "bless you" comes from these times and expresses hope that the sneeze is innocent in origin.

: : Similar to what Bruce writes... but my grammar school teacher once said that when someone sneezes, it medically proven that your heart stops for that second. In other words, it skips a beat. Thus, "God bless you" as a prayer for you to restore the beating.

: There is no truth whatever in this tale of hearts stopping, or 'missing a beat', when a person sneezes: the Lord alone knows where such tales originate and this is one I've never heard before.

Upon relection, I'm inclined to believe that we are all obliged to make some response when someone sneezes because it's LOUD. Such a noise cannot be ignored, and empathizing with the sneezer, we are obliged by the social contract to say something soothing and salutary. Regardless of what the words mean in a literal sense (and "bless you" usually serves) what we are really saying is "I was startled by the noise, but not in the slightest bit offended because I know it was involuntary, and rest assured I know this is not the first symptom of something serious because I'm going make this wish. Out loud." That's a lot to pack into two words.