On saying "bless you" when someone sneezes

When I was too young to read or write I thought it was "gah-bless-yew". When someone sneezed, I was brought up to say that. "Bless you" was also acceptable and more common.

There doesn't seem to be a consensus on the origin of the phrase. One position is that there was a belief that your soul could escape in a sneeze and the best way of keeping it in was for someone else nearby to petition for divine intervention. Another holds that demons are expelled during a sneeze and the blessing prevents readmission. During the bubonic plague sneezing was a harbinger of imminent death and a benediction was sought.

In any case, no one really believes these reasons now. Yet, even today it is considered impolite not to say those words. Try it. The next time someone sneezes and you intentionally remain silent, you'll feel awkward, even if you don't like that person. That's how deeply ingrained it is in our etiquette.

But etiquette evolves. Men don't have to open doors only for women because the premises that women are too fragile or should be held to a different standard of respect than a man would accord to another man are false. We know this and adjust accordingly. Of course there are still people who do this, but there are far fewer now than in 1958. The norm has changed.

Can anyone provide a good reason why we should keep the norm of saying "bless you" when someone sneezes?
Edit: More to the point, is there a good reason to keep the norm of saying anything when someone sneezes?

No. But there again I normally just go with 'SHUT UP!'.

Is 'Gesundheit!' (good health!) more rational than 'Bless you'? I think either is a way of acknowledging the sneezing because some deeply culturally ingrained superstition compels us to do so.

Absolutely not, and my wife and I have banned it in our household. We argue that, conversely, somebody who sneezes should apologize to those around them for spreading germs. If I'm in a particularly snarky mood, I'll respond to a "Bless you" with "What gives you that right?" or "It's too late to help me" or "Your presence is blessing enough for me."

pignoli wrote:

Is 'Gesundheit!' (good health!) more rational than 'Bless you'?

It removes the religious component which could be offensive to those who don't share the petitioner's faith. But it still recognizes the sneeze as worthy of address. Can you defend that warrant?

baggachipz wrote:

If I'm in a particularly snarky mood, I'll respond to a "Bless you" with ... "It's too late to help me"

Do you do that in a dying Darth Vader voice?

Changing something that's pretty much reflexive feels forced and stilted to me. I'm not going to stop saying God Dammit or Sweet f*cking Christ either.

I find this to be an interesting contradiction for me. While I steadfastly avoid using B.C. and A.D. to denote the modern date (because Anno Domini, "In the year of Our Lord," is inherently Christian) and even correct others who use it to use the more appropriate Before Common Era and Common Era (BCE and CE), I have no problem with "bless you" and honestly feel a little irked when people don't say it after I sneeze.

I also typically say "excuse me" after I sneeze -- because sneezing is gross. Maybe that's why people say bless you. "You just did something gross all over your hand/hankerchief/my blouse. I hope someone or something blesses you, because you're a gross person."

"Gesundheit" is just a polite way of saying what you're really thinking, "Man, i hope you don't have TB."

I had a similar mishearing of "God Bless You" when younger. I thought it was "kableshu," and I had no idea what it meant.

Crouton wrote:
pignoli wrote:

Is 'Gesundheit!' (good health!) more rational than 'Bless you'?

It removes the religious component which could be offensive to those who don't share the petitioner's faith. But it still recognizes the sneeze as worthy of address. Can you defend that warrant?

Aren't sneezes oftentimes a symptom of something like a cold? In that case, wishing "good health" on the person who sneezed is certainly appropriate. Granted, we don't do the same with coughing or sniffling or bleeding from the ears.

Personally, I don't see the harm in a "Gesundheit" or a "Bless you" when someone sneezes. It's mostly just the social norm, and one that I don't see a problem with.

My usual responses are either:

"thanks for using your elbow", "go wash your hands", or "fck! cover that mouth next time, you freaking plaguebearer!".

I find it is important to be instructive.

As game dialogue trees have taught us, you have many context sensitive responses that can affect your faction ratings in real life.

Let me illustrate:

You could just go wtih a simple "You ok?" Quite neutral. No faction loss or gain.

You might be extremely generous with a "Can I get you some water or a tissue." Faction +10, +25 for both.

Of course if the person is sneezing all over you, you might go with "Ya mind?" "Cover your mouth" "Could you sneeze the other way" Faction - 10 in each case.

If you want a one way ticket to the looney bin you might consider "Curse you. Curse you and 10 generations of descendants for sneezing in my presence." You become KOS to this faction.

IMAGE(http://images.buddytv.com/articles/Image/jerry-seinfeld-30-rock.jpg)

"You're so good looking!"

kaostheory wrote:

Aren't sneezes oftentimes a symptom of something like a cold? In that case, wishing "good health" on the person who sneezed is certainly appropriate. Granted, we don't do the same with coughing or sniffling or bleeding from the ears.

That's my point. Why does sneezing, in particular, warrant a response that other symptoms of sickness or involuntary spasms don't?

Crouton wrote:

Can anyone provide a good reason why we should keep the norm of saying "bless you" when someone sneezes?

Can anyone provide a good reason why the word "good" should mean "positive, rational or beneficial?" It's just how language works. I personally use gesundheit because it's more fun to say (and I like the sentiment wishing people good health more than asking the spirits to cram their soul back inside). That said, I think anyone who makes it a point to be offended by the religious tone of "bless you" is either insecure in their own religious identity - new atheists and agnostics are sometimes VERY atheist and agnostic in order to prove to themselves and others that they are atheists and agnostics - or is looking for attention. It's generally kind of a dick move to get offended by someone wishing well upon you, even if you don't share their beliefs.

A German friend of mine told me that the actual German tradition is to say "Gesundheit" for the first two sneezes, then a different word that means, "you're sick" for the third. I found that a bit amusing.

I think it goes back to the supersitition original poster mentioned. I had also remembered hearing there was once a belief that a sneeze meant evil spirits were trying to get you or left you open to their attack.

"Bless you."
"Bless you."
"Get the **** out of my airspace, germ-factory!"

My Korean language textbook says that in Korea, noone says "bless you" in the room when someone sneezes. Instead, people are likely to laugh if the sneeze was particularly "funny".

IMAGE(http://www.penny-arcade.com/images/2005/20050128h.jpg)

I usually go with "'Scuze you," when dealing with a sneezer, and "Goddamnit!" if I'm the sneezer myself.

LobsterMobster wrote:

Can anyone provide a good reason why the word "good" should mean "positive, rational or beneficial?" It's just how language works.

Can you clarify? I don't understand what you're getting at.

That said, I think anyone who makes it a point to be offended by the religious tone of "bless you" is either insecure in their own religious identity - new atheists and agnostics are sometimes VERY atheist and agnostic in order to prove to themselves and others that they are atheists and agnostics - or is looking for attention. It's generally kind of a dick move to get offended by someone wishing well upon you, even if you don't share their beliefs.

A woman who has a door held open for her by a man who won't hold it open for another man has a legitimate reason to be offended because she's being treated differently based on her gender. Also I know Jews who are offended when a Christian evokes Jesus's name for their benefit. Also, it isn't inappropriate to take exception when someone says, "May you have only sons."

Crouton wrote:
That said, I think anyone who makes it a point to be offended by the religious tone of "bless you" is either insecure in their own religious identity - new atheists and agnostics are sometimes VERY atheist and agnostic in order to prove to themselves and others that they are atheists and agnostics - or is looking for attention. It's generally kind of a dick move to get offended by someone wishing well upon you, even if you don't share their beliefs.

A woman who has a door held open for her by a man who won't hold it open for another man has a legitimate reason to be offended because she's being treated differently based on her gender. Also I know Jews who are offended when a Christian evokes Jesus's name for their benefit. Also, it isn't inappropriate to take exception when someone says, "May you have only sons."

I don't think the woman in that scenario has a reason to be offended, nor do I think Jews have reason to be offended when a Christian evokes Jesus' name (like, for example, saying Merry Christmas).

In fact I think that hardly anyone in this country has a reason to be offended for the vast majority of things they get offended for. That said, I also don't confuse reason with right. And people have the right to be offended over anything they want.

Crouton wrote:
LobsterMobster wrote:

Can anyone provide a good reason why the word "good" should mean "positive, rational or beneficial?" It's just how language works.

Can you clarify? I don't understand what you're getting at.

I'm pointing out that language is cultural, not rational. Just as "goodbye" no longer has a religious connotation we still use it because it's a useful and commonly understood word. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about a cat that objectively necessitates it be called a cat. That's why it's also a gato, a neko, and a lo mein* depending on where you go.

Crouton wrote:

A woman who has a door held open for her by a man who won't hold it open for another man has a legitimate reason to be offended because she's being treated differently based on her gender. Also I know Jews who are offended when a Christian evokes Jesus's name for their benefit. Also, it isn't inappropriate to take exception when someone says, "May you have only sons."

Yes, you're right, there are legitimate, non-crazy reasons for people to be offended by all of these things. I never said people who were offended by "bless you" were insane or irrational. Just that it's, well, kind of a dick thing to get offended over. If I hold a door for a woman - as I tend to - and just give it a little nudge so the man behind her can catch it, then yes, I have treated her differently, and yes, she may get offended over it. If it would make her feel better, I would apologize for being polite to her.

Personally, I think that when someone wishes me well or tries to do right by me, that's more important than the words they choose. I'm not a believer, but if someone says they're going to pray for me, that means a lot to me. I do have a right to be offended by it, yes. Only in the same way I have a right to throw their kindness back in their face. Just because I can do it doesn't mean I should.

* this is funny joke.

Men don't open doors to be nice. We do it to look at asses. Duh.

My wife has allergies and at times she sneezes A LOT. When we were first together I'd say "bless you" and all that but when someone is sneezing 12 times every 15 minutes it starts to lose its impact. I'm gently moving towards phazing the bless yous out.

From a religious point of view I think its moot. The term is a social one that lost any religious connotation long ago.

LobsterMobster wrote:

I'm pointing out that language is cultural, not rational. Just as "goodbye" no longer has a religious connotation we still use it because it's a useful and commonly understood word.

And as you said, it's useful. It makes it clear to the other person that the speaker considers the conversation complete.

LobsterMobster wrote:

On the recipient of a blessing taking offense.

This is my fault as I started down a path that strays from the important aspects of the etiquette. What is more important to me is why should someone say anything when someone sneezes. I'll try to edit my original post to make that clear. Sorry for my misguidance.

Crouton wrote:

This is my fault as I started down a path that strays from the important aspects of the etiquette. What is more important to me is why should someone say anything when someone sneezes. I'll try to edit my original post to make that clear. Sorry for my misguidance.

I guess the main reason we do it is it's a cultural norm. I don't see any harm in it, since it's rarely more than a second or so out of the day to say "Gesundheit" or "Bless you" to someone when they sneeze.

If the response to a sneeze were some elaborate ceremonial arm-waving thing, I could see why there might be a desire to move away from the norm. But for a quick verbal response, it just seems like the cost of time lost isn't sufficient to justify making a conscious effort to not say anything.

Admittedly, I "gesundheit" pretty much anything (hiccups, coughing, etc.), so maybe I need to tone it down some myself...

Crouton wrote:

This is my fault as I started down a path that strays from the important aspects of the etiquette. What is more important to me is why should someone say anything when someone sneezes. I'll try to edit my original post to make that clear. Sorry for my misguidance.

Because it's a harmless yet well-defined social interaction.

There's a lot of pointless social interactions that we could decide serve no purpose and just cut out. But sometimes these friendly little niceties just add a tiny bit more positivity into the room. Very tiny. Probably not even worth talking about. But definitely not something in need of quashing (not that you're saying that).

*Legion* wrote:

There's a lot of pointless social interactions that we could decide serve no purpose and just cut out. But sometimes these friendly little niceties just add a tiny bit more positivity into the room.

Like when I hump a woman's leg soon after meeting her for the first time?

Funkenpants wrote:

Like when I hump a woman's leg soon after meeting her for the first time?

As long as you keep saying "bless you!" while you do it.

*Legion* wrote:
Funkenpants wrote:

Like when I hump a woman's leg soon after meeting her for the first time?

As long as you keep saying "bless you!" while you do it.

I prefer screaming "Gesundheit" over and over again, but either one is good.