Why do we say “Bless You” after someone sneezes?
Dear Just Curious,
Well I’m not an encyclopedia, but I am pretty good at hunting down stuff like this on this Internet and this is what I found.
On the Urban Legends References pages at http://www.snopes2.com they state: The origin of saying, “Bless you!” when someone sneezes stems from an ancient desire to safeguard the sneezer’s soul or to commend the dying to the mercy of God.”
But other “urban legends” they have heard of on this topic are:
“¢ 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.
No one really knows the origin of this phrase or why it is uttered as a reflexive response to the expulsion of mucus from the nasal cavity (I really just wanted to write the explosion of snot from the nose, but I thought I should try to retain some integrity to make up for answering this question in the first place!). Remember everyone, it’s flu season, keep your souls inside of you and watch out for the “ever-lurking” Satan waiting to grab your discarded tissues. Just goes to show you can ask me anything, and I’ll do my best to answer it.
I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! TELL ME YOUR TROUBLES. YOUR CONFIDENTIALITY IS ASSURED.
This column is for entertainment only. Sandra is not a professional counsellor, but is an AU student who would like to give personal advice about school and life to her peers. Please forward your questions to Sandra care of firstname.lastname@example.org