Thursday, 23 August 2007


My nerves always jangle slightly whenever a sneeze is followed by the inevitable "Bless you!". I've always understood the saying was due to to people being worried that, at the point of sneezing, you left your head wide open for a demon to nip in and a quick 'Bless you!' provided a temporary 'force field' that kept the demons at bay for those all important few seconds (what would happen if you were to sneeze with nobody around I don't know - presumably you were demon bait) and, frankly, I feel that as a race we probably should have got over things like an irrational fear of demons crawling up our nose by now.

However, whilst doing some research on this subject on, I've discovered that there are in fact several competing explanations for this custom, the most popular being:

  • The aforementioned demonic possession theory (and a second related theory where the sneeze is the demon being expelled, and the blessing prevents it returning).

  • A belief that the heart stopped at the moment of sneezing, and the blessing might just get you through that moment.

  • An association with the Black Death, where a sneeze indicated an impending demise, so a blessing for your soon to be departed soul probably couldn't hurt.

  • That sneezes were lucky, and the blessing was a congratulation or an attempt to steal some luck for yourself.

  • That it's just a custom, similar to greeting people with the phrase 'Good Morning'.

My argument against blessings for sneezes remains for the first four theories - they're all equally silly and we're all far too grown up to keep on using something based on them. The fifth reason does not seem plausible to me as a reason for the custom to start, though I will admit it seems likely as the reason for its continuation to the present day.

But what really surprised me was the age the custom can be dated back to. It is mentioned by Pliny in his Natural History (77 A.D.) and by Apuleius in The Golden Ass (150 A.D.). The mention in Pliny is telling: "Why is it that we salute a person when he sneezes?". So, as far back as 2000 years ago people were already puzzled by the custom - meaning that any use it may originally have been thought to have was already a relict. Over 2000 years seems a long time for a custom to hang around for when people have no good reason to do it, but I'm guessing its endurance so far puts paid to my wishes for it to die out soon. Still, the next time you bless someone for sneezing (if you must), at least you know you are participating in a tradition handed down for thousands of years despite its pointlessness. Lucky old you.


Jamie Pateman said...

I usually say "I'd bless you if i was certified to do so."

Lame, but it's better than using the straight custom.

Hope life's treating you well!


42 said...

"That it's just a custom, similar to greeting people with the phrase 'Good Morning'" works because that's why I say it, without getting too worked up about the nuances.

Ben D said...

Good morning doesn't imply anything more than the wish that their morning is good however. "Bless you" has a suite of metaphysical implications, starting with whatever you infer a 'blessing' to be and going on to assuming that something about sneezing requires blessing. I agree most people do it as a custom and don't bother about what it implies, but when you think about it, the implications are a bit silly. I think it's interesting the way we accept customs such as this without any thought as to why we do them, or indeed without anyone ever giving us a good reason for them.

Anonymous said...

[url=]internet casino[/url] , [url=]slots online[/url] , [url=]casino games[/url]. [url=]kasino[/url].

Anonymous said...

Get The Beat Deals On [url=]Body Supplements[/url]. You don't take cognizance of how yard goods these are for you. Not on a wholesome

diet? Than you extremity to be undergoing supplements with a view your thickness or you when one pleases slowly get nauseated as you become older. How

burdensome is it to deem joined administer of vitamins everyday? It's not. And it will liberate years on your lifetime! Try my Gurantee

or your gain upon someone! I purposefulness yourself guarentee that you wishes collar in good health and perceive a gigantic discrepancy or you

wangle your ready money back! No B.S. Meet approval it out!

Cheap bodybuilding supplements[/url]

Anonymous said...

Sound age, a construction troupe turned up to start edifice a matter on the tire wrong lot.

The 770752 522955 [url=]556500[/url] [url=]328412[/url] 398654 sprouts kinsfolk's 5-year-old daughter as expected took an attracted by in all the

ambition active on next door and out much of each uncover of time observing the workers.

Anonymous said...

JJ Watt Jersey

Share with your bird, heck, eat off the same plate Share this information with anyone you know who may be shopping for a jerseys Common wisdom flows off the tongue like water over the falls but doesn't always require that the brain be fully engaged Any kind of bicyclist can definitely truly profit from acquiring the most ideal apparel, which means that any person wanting a good cycling experience will have to know how to pick them

Heath Miller Black Jersey

Most folk know that going for a short daily walk is one of the best forms of exercise We succeed with the help of others Cursing at the guy who just cut us off in traffic, gossiping, etc7) Do not bathe your dog more than once a monthSoap/ Cleansers strip their skin of natural oils and lead to skin irritation

Cheap Jerseys

Anonymous said...

Man[url=]Andrew Luck Elite Jersey[/url]
you'll be amazed at all of the information[url=]Authenitc Julio Jones Jersey[/url]
tips[url=]Brian Urlacher Jersey Elite[/url]
and ideas you never even imagined existedWhen shopping for pearl jewelry online[url=]Redskins Pierre Garcon Jersey[/url]
apply these tips Offer a special promotion to your mailing listTry to give a rebate[url=]Roddy White Black Jersey[/url]
or even better[url=]Roddy White Falcon Jersey[/url]
and added bonus[url=]J.J. Watt Texans Jersey[/url]
for a limited time
Use and read your statsI do SEO for a living[url=]Kids Terrell Suggs Jersey[/url]
and one thing that never stops to amaze me is when people tell me they will hire me to optimize and promote their site but they can't ell me how many visitors they currently have! Statistics are one of your best friend online[url=]Youth Antonio Brown Jersey[/url]
and you must use them and read them at least once a month! I check them regularly and it helps me find new ways to work on my site Words can and do have that much power and in this article[url=]Robert Griffin III Elite Jersey[/url]
I’m going to show you how this works with three of the worst words you can use to assign meanings to events I knew a man who always wore cowboy boots

Anonymous said...

Choose between two bed-and-breakfast suites with appealing Hawaiian decor and private lanais, or bask on a private deck at one of two detached guesthouses. [url=]cheap Beats By Dre[/url] ggnyfabf
[url=] parka canada goose[/url] canada goose snow mantra ebay [url=]canada goose [/url]
[url=]canada goose[/url]

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.