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Why Do People Say "Bless You" When You Sneeze?

The tradition of saying "bless you" after someone sneezes has its origins in religion.
A woman sneezing.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 December 2014
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For many people, saying "Bless you" or "Gesundheit" following someone else's sneeze is a conditioned response or reflexive action. Whenever they hear a loud sneeze, the next words out of their mouths will be a blessing of some description. They do this, essentially, because of centuries of religion and tradition. By not saying "Bless you" or something similar, individuals may believe that they are setting themselves up for an even bigger problem down the road.

From some interpretations of the Judeo-Christian point of view, the heart and mind have nothing on the nostrils: when God decided to create Man from the dust of the Earth, He blew the spirit of life into Man's nostrils. In many other religions, the nostrils are considered to be a gateway between the spiritual and physical worlds. Whenever someone sneezes, he or she may be expelling some of the life forces or spirits sent by the Creator. By saying "Bless you," it is believed that evil spirits are prevented from entering the sufferer's body through the nostrils.

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There is also a theory that, during the Dark and Middle Ages, a violent sneeze was often a precursor of dreaded diseases such as the plague. Whenever someone sneezed, those closest to him or her issued an immediate blessing to ward off the evil forces which led to disease and suffering. The words weren't so much for the health of the sneezer, but for the continued good health of those who came in contact with the expelled mucus. Some sources say Pope Gregory I popularized the common use of blessings as he reflexively blessed those who sneezed in his presence.

The very act of sneezing may also prompt a "Bless you" response from onlookers, especially if it is a powerful blast. Some common rumors about sneezing suggest that a person's heart may stop beating, the pressure could induce a stroke, or the eyes may be blown out of their sockets. The immediate response is thought to be an expression of gratitude that the sneezer did not experience any of those events. The German blessing, Gesundheit, literally means "May you be called healthy," and most likely entered the American vernacular following the immigration of the Pennsylvania Dutch and other German populations.

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Discuss this Article

anon970444
Post 34

A Muslim says "alhamdulillah," or "all praise to the one and only god." He is actually praising the god out of gratitude for relieving him from the difficulties.

anon318549
Post 33

You are not giving the blessing. You're asking God to bless the person. The whole phrase is, "May God bless you." But people are lazy and shortened it down to just "bless you."

anon303361
Post 31

I sneeze again whenever people say "Bless you," and can't help it. Sometimes it lasts for more than minute.

anon297296
Post 30

Despite its origins (which are varied and interesting) personally, I bless anyone who sneezes in my presence just as a courtesy and a show of concern. It's called human compassion and there is nothing wrong with it. The world would be a better place if people showed a little compassion now and then.

anon296268
Post 29

One more thing people do just because -- and usually it relate to superstition, which always relates to lack of belief and/or trust in God. Those of us who are believers should always question these types of things and not just do them because great-great-great grandma did them.

anon226102
Post 27

Saying "bless you" expels air from your mouth, blowing away airborne germs from the sneeze. Long before people were aware of germs, those who uttered a phrase were more likely to avoid the airborne viruses cast at them by a sneeze.

anon214037
Post 26

I'll take a "bless you" anytime. I sure will.

anon200306
Post 25

You say bless you when somebody sneezes because your heart stops every time you do.

anon197995
Post 24

I have heard the superstitious practice of saying it is because: Your heart stops or skips a beat when you sneeze and that saying it, keeps evil spirits, demons and/or the devil at a distance and your soul is protected or safer. What do you think of that?

anon160188
Post 22

This is crazy. Why would I say "bless you" when someone sneezes. Some people sneezes with phlegm that comes along with it. One of my co-worker sneezes in front of me, he sneezes and try to catch it with his hands it's disgusting.

anon154708
Post 21

I'm sorry but that is just baloney! lol. People think I'm rude when I don't say bless you after they sneeze. I think it's stupid.

anon152814
Post 20

Why do we insist on calling attention to others when they sneeze? Hey, look at that guy who just blew snot all over his arm! Let people sneeze in peace.

anon151011
Post 19

God bless you all.

anon147245
Post 17

Would it be creepy if I were to lay my hands on the sneezer when saying "Bless you?"

anon142703
Post 16

I have always said Bless you and never knew why. I guess I have been a parrot all these years. Thanks Eulie!

anon134342
Post 14

This originates from when anyone was ill with the Black Death and the only thing you could say to them was "God Bless You" as there was no cure.

anon122626
Post 13

Wow this is really something. First, how can a imperfect being bless you. You should be praying to God for his blessing because that is who blessing comes from.

anon122338
Post 12

you are waiting for someone to ask you something when you don't say thank you? how weird. i think you take it too seriously, like who cares if they say it and have those beliefs? what are you going to say to them, give them your thoughts as why you didn't answer? some things don't need that and this is one of them. so what?

anon89877
Post 10

I love it when people sneeze around me, because I just stand there "doo do do dododo." When I sneeze and they don't get that "Thank you (for your play on superstition)", I get that emanation of awkwardness lol. I'm waiting for someone to ask the question. No one has asked yet. We are such freaking muppets, I swear.

anon89425
Post 9

Great information. Thank you.

anon85681
Post 8

I believe that of all our physical expulsions, a sneeze is the least of them for needing a blessing. Certainly others should be blessed more.

anon85596
Post 7

Good info! Thanks.

anon65721
Post 5

Thank you very much for the explanation.

anon47400
Post 3

Great website. This tells me everything I need to know. "Bless you!"

anon47399
Post 2

This is a great help for what I wanted to know. Thanks.

tahoe
Post 1

A person sneezes at an average rate of 90mph. The sneeze is caused by an irritation in your nose. Nerve endings send messages to your brain, your brain tells your muscles in your diaphram, stomach, eyelids, and throat, and out it comes.

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