Why do we say “God bless you” when you sneeze, but not when you cough?

Post #150 from Dr. Crankenfuss, The World’s Awesomest Raving and Rapping blogger–

The other day I sneezed.

No, that’s not all that happened. Then my mom said, “Bless you.”

(Oh, keep reading. It’s gets better than this. Not by that much, I admit, but I think it will all end up pretty interesting.)

So I asked, “Why did you bless me just because I sneezed?” And she said, “Because, I don’t know, it’s a custom and anyway it’s a nice thing to say to show the other person you care, you know. Also, I didn’t bless you. That’s short for ‘God bless you.'”

“But you don’t ask God to bless me when I cough, do you?” I said.  “And that could be worse than a sneeze, say like I was starting to choke to death, right?”

“That’s true,” she said, “and I’m about to choke you right now if you don’t keep asking questions. You know what to do when you don’t know something, don’t you?” And she gave me one of her Don’t keep pushing me, Bub looks.

“Yes,” I answered meekly. She meant I was supposed to find out the answer myself. Which is harder than just having it told to you, but not that bad. So I went to my computer and typed “bless you sneeze” in the search bar and guess what came right up as the top two results. That’s right — Wikipedia — with the title “God bless you.” (It’s almost always Wikipedia, isn’t it?)

So Wikipedia says it started way back near Bible times, but in 590 Pope Gregory I commanded everyone to say “God bless you” after someone sneezed because there was a plague going around and sneezing was one of the first symptoms of the plague. So it made sense that a blessing from God might help you. And Wikipedia added that later on, people used to think when you sneezed, your soul would shoot out of your body and the devil could get a hold of it so “God bless you” was supposed to protect your soul.

Then I went to another favorite site of mine– Snopes.com — and looked up “God bless you” and there was a cool article with all the different theories about where people thought the expression started. The new thing I learned was that some people used to think your heart stopped when you sneezed — which isn’t really true — so the blessing was to help you recover. But then it also said in some societies, a sneeze was considered good luck so “Bless you” was kind of like “Thank you.”

Huh?

So let me get this straight. Someone sneezes on you and that’s good luck? And none of the other reasons for the blessing really make sense nowadays, do they, except for my mom’s original idea. It’s to bless you because you’re a little bit “sick.” But actually you could just have a piece of dust up your nose and I don’t know if you need a blessing for that. I mean it wouldn’t hurt, but we don’t get blessed for coughing, throwing up, running into a doorframe — hey, some of us aren’t that coordinated — or doing an arm fart, do we? And a good argument could be made in all those cases that you could use a little divine help, couldn’t it?

Isn’t it interesting how a custom that started hundreds of years ago for a good reason back then keeps on going and going even though we don’t really believe in the reasons for it now?

Well, I think it’s interesting! And in my next post, I might even write a poem about it.

So you keep on saying, “Bless you” when someone sneezes, but at least know why you’re doing it, okay?

From Dr. Crankenfuss,
Who had to look all this up.
So a little “thank you” might be in order, don’t you think?
You don’t?
Awww… please!

5 thoughts on “Why do we say “God bless you” when you sneeze, but not when you cough?”

  1. I`m foreigner and this topic made me always curious. It seems good action to show one`s care to the other. But it will be better to hear ‘Bless you’ when I am in real trouble. Thanks for heading up on this topic.

    1. Thanks for your comment, BK. Yeah there are a lot of things that don’t make sense to me in English. Like how about when we say a guy’s house BURNS DOWN but then we say, “All his possessions were BURNED UP in the fire”? (That last quote was straight from UsingEnglish.com.) I’ll probably have to do a few more posts on stuff like this. And hey, I’m taking Spanish now and a lot of it is REALLY HARD! I don’t see how anyone in Mexico or Spain is smart enough to speak it.

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