Achooooooo! | Flash Post 378
God bless you, Button.
I’ve never understood why people say “God bless you” or simply “bless you”
after hearing someone sneeze. What’s stranger is when people say this to complete strangers. Yet others utter these words hearing a sneeze far away or what they think is a sneeze without actually seeing the person in question!
Well, saying “God bless you” or “bless you” is more spontaneous than intended. It’s a common refrain uttered by just about anybody and since it’s heard from childhood, most people don’t think twice before saying it. It is not said to bless anyone but mere politeness. It becomes increasingly reflective so, if we hear someone sneeze, we automatically respond with “God bless you”. I’ve never indulged in this but am always a little undecided if I’ve done the right thing without seeming to be rude and uncaring.
When did this social behaviour originate and how?
According to W David Myers, a professor of history at Fordham University, sneezes were thought to be a bad omen or warning from the gods. For European Christians, the first plague that weakened the now Christian Roman Empire around 590, Pope Gregory the Great, believed that a sneeze was an early warning of plague, commanding Christians to respond to the sneeze with a blessing.
Now, that’s interesting.
In ancient times, people believed that sneezing would allow evil spirits to enter your body and saying “God bless you”, kept them away. Simply saying “bless you”, reduces religious implications or revelations about your personal beliefs.
According to Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University, there are a variety of reasons why many of us are compelled to offer a blessing after a sneeze.
One is a conditioned response when people say “God bless you” in response to a sneeze and the person says “thank you”. The next reason is that it’s a catchy phrase and even a child would pick it up. Also, it could give rise to a feel-good connection between the person saying “bless you” to someone sneezing, a phenomenon Farley calls micro-affection. The next is conformity where saying “bless you” in response to a sneeze is part of the civility underlying many of our social mores.
Where did you come across this bit of news?
In an edition of The Times of India.