Saturday, June 23, 2012

What a silly thing to say…

Me: “Achoo!”
Person: “Bless you.”
Me: “…”
Person: “Arn’t you going to say “Thank you.”“
Me: “No. Why should I?”
Person: “Because it is polite.”
Me: “Can you tell me why it is polite?”
Person: “Um…because it is.”

Do you say anything when people sneeze? I was taught to say “bless you” when people sneeze, but at some point I started to wonder why. If you can guess, I no longer say it, but I do say “excuse me” when I sneeze. It seems like more of an interruption to other people to me, so that is why I say “excuse me.” The only reason people say it anymore is because it has been ingrained in us that it is the polite thing to do. When and how do outdated common courtesies fade away?

There are multiple possible origins for people saying “bless you”, dating back almost 2,000 years. At some point it was believed that when you sneezed, your soul was trying to escape and the saying would stop this from happening. Others believed that when you sneezed it opened your soul up for a demon to take over and the saying would ward off the evil spirit. Some people still believe that your heart stops when you sneeze; saying “Bless you” in this case was meant to welcome you back to life.

Bless you as we know it most likely originated from Pope Gregory I during the time of the bubonic plague. It was believed that sneezing was a sign of infection and blessing somebody was a common effort to halt the disease and protect ones self as well. Various other cultures also have sayings when people sneeze, almost always dealing with health. Gesundheit is German for “health”, Romans would say “Salve” which meant “good health to you.” These make more sense, but I still see no real reason to say them.

We know now that a sneeze is usually indicative of a cold or allergies. They can also be brought on by strong odors, particles in the nasal passages, and even exposure to bright lights. To me, this makes it even more silly to say “bless you”. If we say it for a bodily function like a sneeze, why not for a burp, cough, or even a fart?

What do you think? Do you say anything when somebody sneezes near you? Is there any reason to say it other than the fact that it is an old tradition? Do you think it will ever fade away? What are your thoughts?