Why Do People Say “Bless You” After Someone Sneezes?
You'll never look at "bless you" the same way again.
Could you imagine someone sneezing and then just sitting in silence watching them as they compose themselves? We’re cringing at the awkwardness just thinking about it. But aside from just making both you and the sneezer feel uncomfortable, saying “bless you” in response to a sneeze was just one of those little etiquette rules that have been ingrained in us since childhood. But why do we say “bless you” when someone sneezes? We have some answers for you. And if you want to learn the origin of other popular phrase, read up on the “knock-on-wood” meaning and why we say “quit cold turkey“.
Why do people say bless you?
There are many theories about the origins of the phrase “bless you,” but most theories circle back to the idea of superstition. Google states that superstition is the “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings.” What do ghosts and demons have to do with achoos, you may ask? Well, for starters, one of the most popular ideas dates back to the time of the bubonic plague. Since one of the main symptoms of this illness was sneezing, Pope Gregory I believed that saying “God bless you” as a tiny prayer after someone sneezed would shield them from death.
Another theory comes from an ancient belief that sneezing may actually free the spirit from the body. Unless, of course, God blessed you and prevented this from happening. Some even believed that the spirits that left the body were only evil, so if they were expelled from the body, the evil spirits would be free to roam with everyone else. And trust us, you did not want to be walking around with evil spirits. This is just one of those interesting facts you can share around the dinner table or at parties if you are so inclined.
What does gesundheit mean?
In addition to saying “bless you,” you may hear the word “gesundheit” being thrown around. “Gesundheit” is actually the German word for “health.” The word was formed as a combination of the word “gesund” meaning “healthy” and “-heit” meaning “-hood.” After a sneeze, offering that person good health was believed to hold off any illness that may come. Since many immigrants to America came from Germany, plus American soldiers fought two World Wars in Germany, it makes sense why this word has been seamlessly woven into the American vocabulary.
So, while all of this “bless you” business is based around superstition and ancient beliefs, what’s the harm in wishing someone good health? May all your sneezes keep the evil spirits at bay, fight off any serious illness, and leave you with the beautiful satisfaction that a good sneeze offers.
Next, learn why we say “piqued my interest” and not “peaked my interest” when we see something that makes us curious.
- Merriam-Webster: “gesundheit”
- The Guardian: “Why do we say “bless you” when someone sneezes?”